Thursday, December 8, 2011

Distance Zones

The different distance zones include intimate distance, personal distance, social distance, and public distance. Each one of these different zones are used to nonverbally communicate our feelings to our surroundings. Every day, people are confronted with situations that call for different uses of distance in there communication. Some settings call for an intimate distance, while others require more of a public distance. A person would not walk into an interview and engage their interviewer at an intimate distance because it would be totally inappropriate and quite awkward. This same rule is the reason one may feel uncomfortable standing face to face with a complete stranger on a bus. Understanding these different distances will allow a person to avoid inappropriate and often awkward situations.

Intimate Distance

Intimate distances are used between people in a private setting. These are considered to be encounters of 0-18 inches and are confidential in nature. The people that are generally granted access to one's intimate space are significant others and family. Intimate distance is such a smaller distance because it is invited and earned. We allow these people into this small zone because we trust them and acknowledge them as a significant person in our lives. It is the same reason we are uncomfortable when a person we are not familiar with gives an unexpected hug or kiss. 

Personal Distance

Personal space is considered to be an area of about 1.5 to 3 feet. This space is reserved for friends and even co-workers. These are people that you are comfortable around and have a good relationship with. In many ways we use personal distance to create a professional atmosphere. In a work setting it is often necessary to be in a close distance with a coworker. This is accepted because it is necessary, so even if the coworker would typically be considered to be a stranger or someone that you would not let into such a close distance zone, it is acceptable. Clearly, no matter the culture, the distance zones that we choose for different groups and people can communicate our feelings towards them in very powerful ways. 

Social Distance

The next, and most common distance, is social space. Social space occurs within 4 to 12 feet of another person. This distance is reserved for strangers and new acquaintances. These are typically the people that you pass in the hall at school or see walking in the street. If a situation presents itself that requires you to speak to these people, you will more    than likely keep them at a bit of a distance.

Public Distance

Lastly, public distance applies to areas of 12 feet or more. This is the distance that you share with a person giving a speech or for example, a professor lecturing to a class. We attribute this public distance to these settings because of the implications that go along with breaking these boundaries. For example, you would not go up and give President Obama a hug during his address of the union. Obviously this is an extreme example, but the principle is the same. When a person is teaching a class or giving a speech, the implied distance zone is much greater than any of the others because the attention is intended to be focused on them.

There are many different reasons why people choose to establish distance to different situations and groups of people. Distance is such a natural thing to us that most of us do it without even thinking about it. It can involve everything from choosing to sit on the other side of the library from a group of people you do not know, to kissing your girlfriend when she comes to the door. Each one of these distances have different meanings and are communicated in a special way. One of the most outstanding reasons for using distance zones is safety. Keeping strangers at a public distance prevents you from being surprised from a threatening action and allows you to anticipate danger. This is why you generally stay away from people while walking down ally ways. On the other hand, distance zones can also be used to show threat and even inform another person that they are in danger. By invading space, one can communicate their intentions to do harm to another person. Communication is an obvious yet important aspect of distance as well. The distance zones we choose with the people around us can communicate very different things. For example, lets say a man meets a woman for the first time and the distance zone they use at the beginning of the night is social. Towards the end of the night, however, if the woman begins to use more of a personal zone she is probably communicating an interest in the man. 

Interestingly enough, distance zones are not a universally uniform. For example, in America we consider our personal distance zones to be much closer at 18 inches, where in places like Japan, personal distance zones are typically considered to be closer to 36 inches. The difference in casual distance zones is an interesting way to discover how different cultures experience communication and intimacy. One could infer that because the Japanese are have larger distance zones, they are less comfortable with physical touch. 

works cited

1) Burgoon, Judee K., Laura K. Guerrero, and Kory Floyd. Nonverbal Communication. New York: Pearson Publishing, 1996. Print.
2) Changing Minds, 10 Apr. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2011
3) Hall, Edward. The Hidden Dimensions. New York: Ancor Books, 1969. Print.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Intercultural communication of proxemics

Intercultural communication and its relation with proxemics is an ongoing and in some instances changing element of communication that all cultures must acknowledge to have better intercultural relationships.  We must all strive to understand each others' cultural emphasis and rules that are placed on space to have positive and successful communication and nonverbal dialogue.  When engaging in communication with other cultures in relevance to proxemics, whether it be pertaining to business, personal or with their military, we sometimes have problems developing trust and understanding meanings.  Often times there are misunderstandings from one another because we are too familiar with our own cultural norms and do not immediately relate to others and their use of space.  Proxemics is defined as: The study of the cultural, behavioral, and sociological aspects of spatial distances between individuals (1).  In correlation, communication has been defined in several ways (2). defined communication as "a symbolic process in which people create shared meanings."  There are four distinct levels of personal space.  Intimate, which covers direct contact with individuals to 18 inches.  This space used for sharing lovemaking, kissing and emotional ideas.  Personal space is personal distance which covers 18 inches to 4 feet and is usually reserved for the conversation of close friends.  Social distance is next which covers a distance from 4 to 12 feet and is used during business transactions and casual social interactions among acquaintances.  Finally, public distance is the largest amount of public space usually over 25 feet but sometimes as little separation as 12 feet and is used by teachers in lecture halls and by public speakers that distance themselves from an audience.  It is important to be familiar with all levels of personal space as they relate to intercultural communication so that we can communicate effectively while respecting each other’s cultural differences/similarities in proxemics.  When defining the differences in cultural proxemics we categories them in two groups, contact and non-contact cultures.   Although we as Americans are very aware of the boundaries that we live by when we communicate with one another, "the norms for personal space seem to vary considerably from culture to culture" (3).

Contact Cultures & Non-Contact Cultures
"A contact culture is when there are Cultural groups in which people tend to stand close together and touch frequently when they interact together. A noncontact culture is when Cultural groups tend to maintain more space and often less touch than contact cultures." (3).  Some examples of contact cultures would include South America, the Middle East and Southern Europe with the Middle East being the highest contact.  Some examples of noncontact cultures would include Great Britain, the Far East, Japan and the United States with the Far East being the most noncontact.  Some scholars believe the United States is more in the middle of the noncontact culture. 


                     Understanding and becoming aware of cross-cultural Proxemics

Even though these cultures are categorized by their level of contact, there are some examples of situations where cultures exhibit certain communication opposite of their norm.  A good example would have to do with the Arabic countries in the Middle East.  Although they are very high on contact and interaction while communicating, there is little tolerance for this type of interaction with separate genders.  Women are not allowed to have contact with males because of their religious beliefs.  In fact there are disciplinary actions that are pursued if this type of communication occurs between men and women in the Arab world.  Whereas in the United States (considered a noncontact culture) there are often displays of public affection while communicating between men and women.  In contrast, in China (a noncontact culture) you will often see young school boys interacting and holding hands while walking and having conversation.  In some Western Cultures this may be seen as homosexual behavior where it is not seen this way in China (4).  Something to think about when studying intercultural communication and its relationship to proxemics is the way certain cultures percieve other cultures actions within a certain space.  "Pushing and shoving in public areas is characteristics of Middle Eastern culture.  Yet it is not entirely what Americans think it is (being pushy and rude) but stems from a different set of assumptions concerning not only the relations between people but how one experiences the body as well.  Paradoxically, Arabs consider northern Europeans and Americans pushy, too." (5).  A great example of this is when Hall shares his story of how he is silently "fighting" over personal space with an Arab man at an airport.  Hall explains that in America, as most Americans know, there is a "Fixed bubble" of personal space that ranges in size depending on gender, age, and crowd size that Americans commonly respect and acknowledge.  The setting is in an airport where the American man wants privacy so he chooses a seat that is away from traffic and people. The Arab man comes and stands so close to him that the American can hear him breathing over him as well as see his shadow right next to him.  As a nonverbal way of communicating to the Arab man that he wants to be left alone, he turns his body away from the Arab man.  In response, the Arab man moves closer to him further annoying the American man.  Hall later shared this story with an Arab friend and the Friend said to him, "it is a public place isn’t it?" (5).  It was explained to Hall that the Arab man was seeking the same seat and in their culture when there is a public setting it is everyone’s free game to a seat.  In America, in that same situation with an American Man that would be considered rude.  With that being said, there was an understanding of the differences in nonverbal communication in a cross-cultural setting.   In Arabic cultures people will often breathe on other people when talking to them.  "To the Arab good smells are pleasing and a way being involved with each other." (5). In the opening blog, this is an example of cultural differences within proxemics and a positive example where there was an understanding of another person’s cultural norms.  As Hall states, people in the Arabic culture will often breathe on one another so that they can smell their own odors, it is said to be polite and desirable to do so while communicating.  In American culture this is thought to be rude.   As mentioned throughout this section there are obvious differences between intercultural communications in relation to proxemics.  With an understanding of these differences and an empathetic attitude, intercultural communications as Hall explained, can be more successful and better respected.

Personal experience in relation to Intercultural Proxemics

In the summer of 2000 I had the opportunity to travel abroad to Egypt for educational purposes.  I had the pleasure of staying with another student I had met while in junior college at Oklahoma City junior college.  His name was Tarek Abduhala Samara and was from Cairo, Egypt.  While getting to know him in Oklahoma I had the chance to invite him in to my family’s home for study sessions and family gatherings.  He would constantly ask me how to act in certain situations where my American family members were present.  I found it funny at the time because of his reluctance to talk around them.  In his culture he would tell me that while eating dinner the families would sit around for hours talking about their day and future plans.  Where in my family we would have small talk and eat, then everyone would move to an area of the home where they felt comfortable. One instance when we all had dinner, Tarek remained seated at our dinner table after everyone had finished eating.  My grandparents asked him if he was still hungry and he replied no. When I got him alone after finding him still sitting at the dinner table he said that he didn’t want to be rude by leaving the dinner table.  In his culture, the families eat, talk, and eat up top two more times before leaving the dinner table.  Later after the semester was over and I traveled to his country with him, I encountered some of the same situations that Tarek had encountered while communicating with people from my culture.  Once when I had dinner with his family, I had gotten up to wash my dishes and put them away.  Everyone from his family scolded Tarek and spoke to him and told him to get my plates from me.  After dinner, the great grandfather had me come over to a long chase and sit on his lap while Tarek translated his questions to me.  I found this very odd that a man in his 70’s would want a man in his 20’s to sit on his lap.  We just don’t see that in American culture.  I sat on his lap for over an hour.  I wasn’t used to this in my cultural.  Because of my experiences and my willingness to have an open mind, it allowed me to understand other cultural communication patterns in relation to their proxemics behaviors.


  1. "Proxemics - Definition of Proxemics by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia." Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus - The Free Dictionary. Web. 08 Dec. 2011.
  2. Lustig, M. W. and Koester, J. 1996. Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures. HarperCollins College Publishers. NY, USA
  3. Martin, Judith N., and Thomas K. Nakayama. "Nonverbal Codes and Cultural Space." Intercultural Communication in Contexts. Mountain View, Calif. [u.a.: Mayfield Publ., 2000. Print.
  4. Carnes, David. "Nonverbal Communication In Cultures | LIVESTRONG.COM." LIVESTRONG.COM - Lose Weight & Get Fit with Diet, Nutrition & Fitness Tools | LIVESTRONG.COM. 15 May 2010. Web. 08 Dec. 2011.
  5. Hall, Edward Twitchell. The Hidden Dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966. Print.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fixed, Semi-fixed, and Non-fixed feature elements

The usage of space in communication is very telling of feelings or attitude. There are three sub-categories of proxemics that this section will deal with: fixed, semi-fixed, and non-fixed, or informal, feature elements. Each of these elements is telling of ideas or sentiments that are attempting to be communicated.

Fixed-Feature Elements

        Fixed feature elements are, for the most part, permanent and by their location and arrangement are used to communicate something specific. An example of fixed-feature element is a floor or a wall. A floor or wall conveys a boundary that is not to be crossed.


Another aspect of fixed-feature elements is size. One’s perception of the effectiveness or success of a particular event or situation can be based largely on how the size of the accommodation relates to the event size itself. Having a small activity in a large room can make one believe the event was not a success because the room looked empty. A small room attempting to house a large party may seem uncomfortable or awkward if a lot of people are crammed into it.

Semi-Fixed Feature Elements

Semi-fixed feature elements are objects that are movable and changeable. The way that these objects are placed in a particular environment communicates many things. One of the things that are communicated is the open-ness or interactivity of the room. As displayed in these pictures, the owners of the living room with the fancy, brown leather couches are more than likely communicating that the room is formal and to be respectful while the owners of the room with the black couches are more likely to be conveying that the room is informal and is more for casual, get-together settings.

Positioning Value:

Another things that is communicated is what is held valuable. Items placed in plain sight or objects that are the “center piece” show others what is valuable or significant. The owner of the house below is communicating that music is a very important issue to him or her. If not communicating that he or she is a musician, it could be a symbol for class or wealth.


Color is another semi-fixed object. Color represents many things, one of which being moods of individuals. Color can manipulate one’s mood dramatically. The color of the room in this picture creates a very calming, relaxing environment.

Non-Fixed Feature Elements

             Non-fixed feature elements are, “People themselves, their dress, hairstyles, proxemics, kinesics, and other non-verbal behaviors are aspects of the non-fixed elements of the environments” (Laconte, 1979). Non-fixed space is also, “space maintained between interactants without being aware of it” ( 


               A person's weight is a non-fixed feature. One can gain and lose weight and communicate that the state of his or her body before the transformation is not a desirable one.
       Another aspect of non-fixed feature elements is the space between interactants. Whether consciously or not, we all have comfort boundaries between other people and we adhere to those during conversations.


       Spatial elements of proxemics convey many messages, consciously and subconsciously. Each of the three sub-categories discussed in this post allow for messages to be sent in various ways. Fixed, semi-fixed, and non-fixed features of proxemics are very prevalent in every day life, whether we notice it or not, and we participate in it knowingly or not.


King, Anthony D., Buildings and Society: Essays on the Social Development of the Built Environment, (1984)

Laconte, Pierre, Gibson, John E., Rapoport, Amos, North Atlantic Treaty Organization;  Human and energy factors in urban planning: a systems approach; July 2-13, 1979

Thirumalai, M. S., Silent Talk- Nonverbal Communication,

Hall, Judith A., Knapp, Mark L., Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction, March 12, 2009

Territories within Proxemics

Within the study of Proxemics researchers have studied closely the subcategory of territories. Altman, Lyman and Scott have named the different types of territories that have been titled. In this blog entry, I will discuss the most relevant.

Body Territory

The most appropriate way to think of body territory is "your bubble." Your body is your space and no one is allowed to invade your body without your permission. For instance, take into consideration the significant amount of stigma and law enforcement with invasion of that territory. Rape, assault, and harrasment are very much punished and the perpetrator is viewed in the most sour light.

In another frame of thought, we can see when we discuss personal spaces, different cultures, as well as different relationships, have their own assigned "distance." Similarly we can make the comparison to ones body territory. We are naturally inclined to "protect" our body. When we stand in line we don't stand to close to the person in front of us to keep a sense of comfort. In the most literal sense of protection we know to keep distance when someone is doing something dangerous near us.

It also noted how we adorn our bodies to signify a sort of protection. Punk rockers dress like punk rockers, business men dress like other business men so as to attract and detur the appropriate people.

Primary Territory

Primary territory refers to our "home." Our home can be our car, our office, our actual house, or any space that we consider primarily ours. Our primary territory is well protected in societies eyes, take for instance the violation of stealing or breaking and entering. When that territory is invaded often times there are legal or other ramifications. Our primary territory is so protected becuase it is most often "ours." It is viewed as something that we own and are allowed to do anything we'd like.

Our primary territory is often the place we are most comfortable. We can relax and be stress free, we can do as we please, ie singing in the shower! We can do things in our primary territory that we would never consider doing in public.

Secondary Territory

Secondary territory is not quite a public place where anyone is welcome but more of place where a norm in expected. For example, when you go to a elementary school, you expect to see children, teachers, and parents, anyone else would raise an eyebrow. That territory helps us protect ourselves from outsiders or those who shouldn't be there.

Another way to think of secondary territory is to expect the same group in the same place each time the location is visited. A bible study group has the same members every week and when a new member is there, it become overwhelmingly obvious.

It is important to point out how each place can be thought of as a different territory to different people. The assigned text brings up the best example I have come come across, the neighborhood bar is a secondary territory to it's regulars, a primary territory to it's employees, and a public territory to those customers who are just dropping in.

Public Territory

A public territory is a space that is open to anyone, there are no shocks in who is seen. There is little feeling of violation when you are in a public territory, because as opposed to protecting your territory you understand that the space is an open space. It's interesting to see however, that while public territory allows for significantly more freedom than other territories, there are still certain guidelines that are followed. Streets that are considered "rough" because they have a particular group of people inhabitating them are often avoided even though they are public streets. Public parks have rules that limit peoples activities or inhibit their terriotries. For instance you can't have rollerblades or ride bicycles on the sidewalks and you can't sleep on the benches overnight. Those rules while inhibiting are generally respected and usually followed.

Often times when a person is in a public territory, their body territory is quite prevalent. Take the picture of the park bench at the top of this post, there is an adequate amount of space between all except of of course for the couple who has less body territory inhibitions.

Proxemics, personal space and territory [Web log message]. (2010, Janurary 28).;

Sussman, L. (n.d.). Nonverbal communication. Informally published manuscript, University of Louisville Louisville, Kentucky. Retrieved from

Igarashist, M., Stade, M., & Vriens, S. (n.d.). Proxemics in public space: Media technology projects. Informally published manuscript, Leiden Univerity, The Netherlands, Retrieved from
Burgoon, J., Guerrero, L., & Floyd, K. (2010). Noverbal communications. (pp. 164-166). Pearson Education, Inc.

Proxemic Behavior Categories

Proxemics has eight dimensions of behavior.  The eight dimensions are posture-gender identifiers, the sociopetal-sociofugal axis, kinesthetic factors, touching codes, visual codes, thermal codes, olfactory codes, and voice loudness.  The posture-gender identifiers are the gender and postural status of the interactants; the sociopetal-sociofugal axis refers to face to face versus back to back positioning of shoulders.  Kinesthetic factors are the difference distances between persons that provide a capability for touching one another; touch codes refers to how the interactants are touching one another.  Visual codes denote the amount of eye contact between the participants; thermal codes refer to the amount of body heat that each participant receives from each other.  The olfactory codes refer to the degree or odor detected by the other interactant; voice loudness deals with the vocal effort used in speech (  These behaviors happen in interpersonal communication within the intimate, personal, and the social distances.  Many of the dimensions encompass aspects of the other nonverbal behaviors considered separately such as the voice, kinesics, and visual behaviors.  However, all of these factors depend on the physical distance which, other things being held constant, will determine how much we hear, see, feel, smell, etc. Distance meaning the manipulation of distance, can be considered a necessary but not a sufficient condition for nonverbal communication itself (
            The first of the eight dimensions is posture-gender identifiers.  There are six primary sub -categories are defined as man prone, man sitting or squatting, man standing, woman prone, woman sitting or squatting, and woman standing (  Proxemic behaviors depend mostly on our culture, and they way we grew up.  During the posture-gender identifiers, people who are closer in relationship and better know each other tend to interact more closely.  An example of this would be a baby girl lying flat or prone. 

The next dimension is sociopetal-sociofugal axis.  The axis of this dimension denotes the relationship between the positions of one person's shoulders and another person's shoulders.  There are nine orientations which are face-to-face, forty-five degrees, ninety degrees, 135 degrees, 180 degrees, 135 degrees, ninety degrees, forty-five degrees, and back-to-back (  Osmond stated, "That when space is organized so that it is conductive to communication between people it is referred to as sociopetal, and when space is organized to produce solitary behavior it is referred to as sociofugal." (Khan and Kamal 2010).  Sociopetal environments are thought to be in closer proximity which it makes conversation easier and more inviting.  Sociopetal environments have long rows of unmovable chairs all facing the same direction which makes communication difficult and awkward. 

The kinesthetic factors refers to the different distances between participants that provide the capability of touching one another (  In general, male-male relationships have the furthest distance between them, next is female-female relationships are closer than males but not as close as male-female.  Of course, male-female relationships are the closest and the most intimate type of relationship. 
Male-Female Relationship

The fourth dimension is touch code refers to how the participants touch each other and how long the touch is whether it is caressing, holding, feeling, prolonged holding, spot touching, pressing against, accidental bump in, or not touching at all.  Culture plays a major factor in this dimension because one might feel threatened, and they may respond as either fight or flight.  This also depends on the person as well whether they are male or female; they might respond differently.  
Striking in response to threat

Visual code is the next dimension.  In this dimension it refers to the amount of eye contact between the participants.  There are four sub-categories which are defined as ranging from eye-to-eye contact to no eye contact at all (  This is another dimension that people need to pay close attention when in different cultures because in different cultures there are different behaviors.  In some cultures staring is normal, but in different cultures staring can be considered rude and uncomfortable.   
Eye Contact
The thermal code denotes the amount of body heat that each participant perceives from one another.  There are four sub-categories that thermal code refers to which are conducted heat detected, radiant heat detected, heat probably detected, and no detection of heat (  The amount of heat detected depends on how close the interactants are to each other; the closer they are the more heat and further away the less amount of heat. 
Conducted Heat Detected

Olfactory code refers to the kind and degree of odor detected by each participant from each other (  It is a fact that the better a person smells they are usually are more attractive, but if they wear too much perfume or cologne then they become less attractive.  
Nasty smell makes skunks unattractive

The last dimension is vocal loudness.  This dimensions deals with the volume of the speech used.  There are seven sub-categories defined as silent, very soft, soft, normal, normal+, loud, and very loud (  The volume that a person uses usually corresponds with their attitude and behavior.  A loud spoken person is usually out-going, spontaneous, but sometimes can be considered aggressive and/or annoying.  A soft spoken person is usually is timid, shy, and weak.
Football games are loud which can get aggressive

Each of the eight behavior dimension plays a vital role in whether communication begins, continues, or never starts.  If each behavior is appropriate then the participants will have a successful conversation with no problems.  People need to take in to consider that different cultures have different views and behaviors on each of these dimensions.  It is their responsible when visiting a different place not to misjudge someone's behavior because they are acting differently from which they are normally do.

-Khan, A., & Kamal, A. (2010). Exploring the Maintenance of Spatial Zones by Male and Female Studentsin Four University Environments. Pakistan Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 8(1),39-53. Retrieved from

-Thirumalai, M. S. Silent talk: Nonverbal communication. CIIL Printing Press. Retrieved from

-Webster's Online Dictionary. (2006). Proxemics. Retrieved from

Saturday, November 26, 2011


As a group, we have decided to do the nonverbal code, proxemics.  We have each picked a subtopic about proxemics.  Michele Antosh will discuss the different territories.  Luke Beery will discuss the different distances.  Christopher Warren will discuss the different spaces.  Stormie Elwood will discuss the proxemic behavior categories that apply in conversations.  Breck Beckner will discuss the intercultural communication of proxemics. We will also provide credible sources of our information and pictures to help enhance our understanding of our topic.