Public Zone: > 3,7 meter

The public zone is generally over 12 feet (3,7 meter). That is, when we are walking around town, we will try to keep at least 12 feet (3,7 meter) between us and other people. For example, we will leave that space between us and the people walking in front.

Of course, there are many times when we cannot do this. What the theory of social distance tells us is that we will start to notice other people who are within this radius. The closer they get, the more we become aware and ready ourselves for appropriate action.

When we are distant from another person, we feel a degree of safety from them. A person at a distance cannot attack us suddenly. If they do seem to threaten, we will have time to dodge, run or prepare for battle.

Social Zone: 1,2 – 3,7 meter

Within the social zone, we start to feel a connection with other people. When they are closer, then we can talk with them without having to shout, but still keep them at a safe distance.

This is a comfortable distance for people who are standing in a group but maybe not talking directly with one another. People sitting in chairs or gathered in a room will tend to like this distance.

Personal Zone: 0,45 – 1,2 meter

In the personal zone, the conversation gets more direct, and this is a good distance for two people who are talking in earnest about something.

Intimate Zone: < 0,45 meter

When a person is within arm’s reach or closer, then we can touch them in intimate ways. We can also see more detail of their body language and look them in the eyes. When they are closer, they also blot out other people so all we can see is them (and vice versa). Romance of all kinds happens in this space.

Entering the intimate zone of somebody else can be very threatening. This is sometimes done as a deliberate ploy to give a non-verbal signal that they are powerful enough to invade your territory at will.

(Delineations created by Edward T. Hall who studied the social distances between people around 1966. Source: Hall, E.T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension, New York: Doubleday)

Note: ‘Proxemics’ is the study of measurable distances between people as they interact. (Term introduced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall)