The invasion of personal space evokes feelings of discomfort, agitation and even blatant anger. E.T. Hall conducted extensive research in relation to physical space in interpersonal interaction, and had these nonverbal communications down to a science---coining the term "proxemics" in his studies. The definition of non-verbal proxemics is the study of man's transactions as he perceives and uses intimate, personal, social and public space in various settings.
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Many factors influence non-verbal communication proxemics. The generally perceived definition of proxemics, supported by the experiences of most men and women, maintains that people will usually try to minimise stress in interpersonal interactions. Perceptions of "interpersonal attractiveness," determine distancing behaviour between individuals although the idea of "attractiveness" may be widely interpreted.
According to Hall's framework of non-verbal communication proxemics, intimate distance between people is between zero and 18 inches. Strangers this close in distance, on a subway for instance, tend to experience discomfort. The senses of sight, body heat, odour and sound become overwhelmed. Hall's studies maintain that the average middle-class American will become agitated, tense and seek to withdraw when forced in close contact with strangers.
The personal zone, in the context of non-verbal proxemics, is 1.5 to 4 feet. The personal zone allows a variety of both formal and non-formal contact between people. Although this zone is not as threatening as the intimate zone and allows people to maintain a reasonable amount of personal space, Hall indicates that this amount of space is close enough for a person to lay their hands on someone, causing social discomfort.
Social distance ranges from 4 to 12 feet. This distance applies to business and formal social situations. Sensory details such as vision and smell are evident, although not overpowering. Beyond social distance, communication requires much more effort.
The public distance zone, in relation to non-verbal proxemics, extends from 12 feet on. Hall describes this zone as adequate space to establish self-defence. Sensory communication must change to adapt, in order to communicate from these distances. This length of distance pertains to most public settings, rather than more intimate surroundings.
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