What is Proxemics? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Proxemics
  • 0:34 Personal Territory
  • 2:20 Physical Territory
  • 2:53 Geographic Territory
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
Proxemics is the study of how humans use space when we're communicating. How close we stand to someone, whether we touch them, and how comfortable we feel are all part of the study of proxemics.

Definintion of Proxemics

Do you feel uncomfortable when someone stands too close to you? Do very bright colors in a room make you feel distracted? These questions are important to the study of proxemics.

Basically, proxemics is the study of space and how we use it, how it makes us feel more or less comfortable, and how we arrange objects and ourselves in relation to space. The term was coined by the anthropologist Edward Hall. Hall was interested in understanding how humans use space in communication.

Personal Territory

In order to understand more about proxemics, we need to discuss different kinds of spaces. There are four kinds of distance that people generally use in communication. This can vary by place, and different cultures have different standards. These are known as realms of personal territory. Let's talk about these now.

  • Public space is the space that characterizes how close we sit or stand to someone, like a public figure or public speaker. So, if you are at an event listening to a professor give a lecture, you are probably about 12 - 25 feet away.
  • Social space means we're getting a little closer, about 4 - 12 feet away. This is the kind of space you're probably in if you're talking to a colleague or a customer at work.
  • Personal space is even closer. In this case, you're probably about 1 - 4 feet away from someone. This is reserved for talking to friends or family.
  • Intimate space is for people who you are very close to. In this case, you're probably less than a foot away and you might even be touching the other person. This is the space you're in with a romantic partner, for example.

It's important to note that this can vary culturally. These are the standards we generally find in the United States. But this might not be the case everywhere.

For example, it might be considered rude to stand too close to someone in one place but not another. It might be very common to touch someone's arm or shoulder while talking in one place, but this could be considered rude in other places. In one country, you might greet someone with a kiss on the cheek, and in other places this might be considered too intimate.

Physical Territory

Next, let's talk about physical territory. This is a little bit different than personal territory. It's more about the ways that we arrange objects in space. For example, you probably have your bed set up so that you face the center of your bedroom, instead of the wall.

Another example of physical territory might be the color of the walls in a room. Very bright colors have been shown to be distracting. So, a person designing an office building probably would not choose to use bright orange or red paint on the walls, as it might be jarring to employees or students.

Geographic Territory

Finally, proxemics also involves the study of geographic territory. This is a lot like what it sounds like! It refers to how we act depending on the kind of geographic space we're in. There are a few types of geographic territory:

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