Human Ecology

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 47–67 | Cite as

Interpersonal relationships and personal space: Research review and theoretical model

  • Eric Sundstrom
  • Irwin Altman


This article reviews research concerning interpersonal distance as a function of interpersonal relationships, attraction, and reactions to spatial invasion. To integrate research findings, we propose a simple model, based on the idea that people seek an optimal distance from others that becomes smaller with friends and larger for individuals who do not expect to interact. The model describes comfort-discomfort as a function of interaction distance in three situations: interacting friends, interacting strangers, and strangers who do not expect interaction. These three personal space profiles are discussed in terms of qualifying variables, such as seated vs. standing interaction, sex composition of the dyad, intimacy of conversation topics, and situational variables.

Key words

personal space interaction distance spatial invasions 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aiello, J. R. (1972). A test of equilibrium theory: Visual interaction in relation to orientation, distance and sex of interactants.Psychonomic Science 27(6): 335–336.Google Scholar
  2. Aiello, J. R. (1973). Gaze direction during interaction. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Eastern Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  3. Aiello, J. R. (1975). A further look at equilibrium theory: Visual interaction as a function of interpersonal distance. Unpublished manuscript, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.Google Scholar
  4. Aiello, J. R., and Cooper, R. E. (1972). The use of personal space as function of social affect.Proceedings of the 80th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association 7: 207–208.Google Scholar
  5. Aiello, J. R., and Jones, S. E. (1971). Field study of the proxemic behavior of young school children in three subcultural groups.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 19: 351–356.Google Scholar
  6. Aiello, J. R., Love, K., and Epstein, Y. (1975). Effects of crowding on the spatial behavior of dormitory residents. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.Google Scholar
  7. Allgeier, A. R., and Byrne, D. (1973). Attraction toward the opposite sex as a determinant of physical proximity.Journal of Social Psychology 90: 213–219.Google Scholar
  8. Altman, I. (1975).The Environment and Social Behavior: Privacy, Personal Space, Territory, and Crowding. Brooks-Cole, Monterey, Calif.Google Scholar
  9. Altman, I., and Taylor, D. (1973).Social Penetration: The Development of Interpersonal Relationships. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.Google Scholar
  10. Argyle, M., and Dean, J. (1965). Eye-contact, distance and affiliation.Sociometry 28: 289–304.Google Scholar
  11. Argyle, M., and Ingham, R. (1972). Gaze, mutual gaze and proximity.Semiotica 6(1): 32–50.Google Scholar
  12. Averill, J. R. (1973). Personal control over aversive stimuli and its relation to stress.Psychological Bulletin 30: 263–270.Google Scholar
  13. Barash, D. P. (1973). Human ethology: Personal space reiterated.Environment and Behavior 5(1): 67–73.Google Scholar
  14. Barefoot, J. C., Hoople, H., and McClay, D. (1972). Avoidance of an act which would violate personal space.Psychonomic Science 28: 205–206.Google Scholar
  15. Bass, M. H., and Weinstein, M. S. (1971). Early Development of interpersonal distance in children.Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science 3(4): 368–376.Google Scholar
  16. Baum, A., Riess, M., and O'Hara, J. (1974). Architectural variants of reaction to spatial invasion.Environment and Behavior 6(1): 91–100.Google Scholar
  17. Baxter, J. C., and Deanovich, B. F. (1970). Anxiety arousing effects of inappropriate crowding.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 35: 174–178.Google Scholar
  18. Baxter, J. C., and Rozelle, R. M. (1975). Nonverbal expression as a function of crowding during a simulated police-citizen encounter.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 32: 40–54.Google Scholar
  19. Bergman, B. A. (1971). The effects of group size, personal space, and success-failure on physiological arousal, test performance, and questionnaire response. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Temple University, Philadelphia (University Microfilms, No. 71-31072).Google Scholar
  20. Byrne, D., Ervin, C., and Lamberth, J. (1970). Continuity between the experimental study of attraction and real-life computer dating.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 16: 157–165.Google Scholar
  21. Byrne, D., Baskett, G. D., and Hodges, L. (1971). Behavioral indicators of interpersonal attraction.Journal of Applied Social Psychology 1: 137–149.Google Scholar
  22. Cheyne, J. A., and Efran, N. G. (1972). The effect of spatial and interpersonal variables on the invasion of group-controlled territories.Sociometry 35(3): 477–489.Google Scholar
  23. Cook, M. (1970). Experiments on orientation and proxemics.Human Relations 23(1): 61–76.Google Scholar
  24. Dabbs, J M. (1971). Physical closeness and negative feelings.Psychonomic Science 23(2): 141–143.Google Scholar
  25. Dabbs, J. M. (1972). Sex, setting, and reactions to crowding on sidewalks.Proceedings of the 80th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, pp. 205–206.Google Scholar
  26. Dinges, N. G., and Oetting, E. R. (1972). Interaction distance anxiety in the counseling dyad.Journal of Counseling Psychology 19(2): 146–149.Google Scholar
  27. Dosey, M., and Meisels, M. (1969). Personal space and self-protection.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 11: 93–97.Google Scholar
  28. Duke, M. P., and Nowicki, S. (1972). A new measure and social learning model for interpersonal distance.Journal of Experimental Research in Personality 6: 1–16.Google Scholar
  29. Edwards, D. J. A. (1972). Approaching the unfamiliar: A study of human interaction distances.Journal of Behavioral Sciences 1(4): 249–250.Google Scholar
  30. Efran, M. G., and Cheyne, J. A. (1972). The study of movement and affect in territorial behavior.Man-Environment Systems 3: 348–350.Google Scholar
  31. Efran, M. G., and Cheyne, J. A. (1973). Shared space: The cooperative control of spatial areas by two interacting individuals.Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science 5: 201–210.Google Scholar
  32. Efran, M. G., and Cheyne, J. A. (1974). Affective concomitants of the invasion of shared space: Behavioral, physiological, and verbal indicators.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 29(2): 219–226.Google Scholar
  33. Evans, G., and Howard, R. B. (1972). A methodological investigation of personal space.Proceedings of the Third Environmental Design Research Association Conference, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  34. Evans, G. W., and Howard, R. B. (1973). Personal space.Psychological Bulletin 80(4): 334–344.Google Scholar
  35. Felipe, N. J., and Sommer, R. (1966). Invasions of personal space.Social Problems 14: 206–214.Google Scholar
  36. Fisher, J. D. (1974). Situation-specific variables as determinants of perceived environmental aesthetic quality and perceived crowdedness.Journal of Research in Personality 8:177–188.Google Scholar
  37. Fisher, J. D., and Byrne, D. (1975). Too close for comfort: Sex differences in response to invasions of personal space.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 32(1): 15–21.Google Scholar
  38. Fry, A. M., and Willis, F. N. (1971). Invasion of personal space as a function of the age of the invader.Psychological Record 21: 385–389.Google Scholar
  39. Garfinkel, H. (1964). Studies in the routine grounds of everyday activities.Social Problems 11: 225–250.Google Scholar
  40. Goffman, E. (1971).Relations in Public. Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  41. Goldberg, G. N., Kiesler, C. A., and Collins, B. E. (1969). Visual behavior and face-to-face distance during interaction.Sociometry 32: 43–53.Google Scholar
  42. Goldring, P. (1967). Role of distance and posture in the evaluation of interactions.Proceedings of the 75th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association 2: 243–244.Google Scholar
  43. Guardo, C. J., and Meisels, M. (1971). Child-parent spatial patterns under praise and reproof.Developmental Psychology 5(2): 365.Google Scholar
  44. Haase, R. S. (1970). The relationship of sex and instructional set to the regulation of interpersonal interaction distance in the counseling analogue.Journal of Counseling Psychology 17: 233–236.Google Scholar
  45. Haase, R. S., and Pepper, D. T. (1972). Nonverbal components of empathic communication.Journal of Counseling Psychology 19(5): 417–424.Google Scholar
  46. Hall, E. T. (1959).The Silent Language. Doubleday, New York.Google Scholar
  47. Hall, E. T. (1963). A system for the notation of proxemic behavior.American Anthropologist 65: 1003–1026.Google Scholar
  48. Hall, E. T. (1966).The Hidden Dimension. Doubleday, New York.Google Scholar
  49. Hammes, J. A. (1964). The personal distance effect as a function of esthetic stimulus, anxiety and sex.Journal of Clinical Psychology 20(3): 353–354.Google Scholar
  50. Heshka, S., and Nelson, Y. (1972). Interpersonal speaking distance as a function of age, sex, and relationship.Sociometry 35: 491–498.Google Scholar
  51. Karabenick, S. A., and Meisels, M. (1972). Effects of performance evaluation on interpersonal distance.Journal of Personality 40(2): 275–286.Google Scholar
  52. Kelley, F. D. (1972). Communicational significance of therapist proxemic cues.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 39(2): 345.Google Scholar
  53. King, M. G. (1966), Interpersonal relations in preschool children and average approach distance.Journal of Genetic Psychology 109: 109–116.Google Scholar
  54. Kleck, R. (1967). The effects of interpersonal affect on errors made when reconstructing a stimulus display.Psychonomic Science 9(8): 449–450.Google Scholar
  55. Kleck, R. (1970). Interaction distance and nonverbal agreeing responses.British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 9: 180–182.Google Scholar
  56. Kleck, R. E., Buck, P. L., Goller, W. D., London, R. S., Pfeiffer, J. R., and Vukcevic, D. P. (1968). Effect of stigmatizing conditions on the use of personal space.Psychological Reports 23: 111–118.Google Scholar
  57. Knowles, E. S. (1972). Boundaries around social space: Dyadic responses to an invader.Environment and Behavior 4(4): 437–447.Google Scholar
  58. Knowles, E. S. (1973). Boundaries around group interaction: The effect of group size and member status on boundary permeability.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 26(3): 327–332.Google Scholar
  59. Knowles, E., and Johnsen, P. (1974). Intrapersonal consistency in interpersonal distance. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Eastern Psychological Association, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  60. Korner, I. N., and Misra, R. K. (1967). Perception of human relationships as a function of inter-individual distance.Journal of Psychological Researchers 11: 129–132.Google Scholar
  61. Kuethe, J. L. (1962). Social schemas.Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 64: 31–38.Google Scholar
  62. Leibman, M. (1970). The effects of sex and race norms on personal space.Environment and Behavior 2(2): 208–246.Google Scholar
  63. Linder, D. E. (1974).Personal Space. General Learning Press, Morristown, N.J.Google Scholar
  64. Little, K. B. (1965). Personal space.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 1: 237–247.Google Scholar
  65. Little, K. B. (1968). Cultural variations in social schemata.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 10: 1–7.Google Scholar
  66. Littte, K. B., Ulehla, F. J., and Henderson, C. (1968). Value congruence and interaction distance.Journal of Social Psychology 75: 249–253.Google Scholar
  67. Long, B. H., and Henderson, E. H. (1970). Social schemata of school beginners: Some demographic correlates.Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 16(4): 305–324.Google Scholar
  68. Lyman, S. M., and Scott, M. B. (1967). Territoriality: A neglected sociological dimension.Social Problems 15(2): 236–249.Google Scholar
  69. Mahoney, E. R. (1974). Compensatory reactions to spatial immediacy.Sociometry 37(3): 423–431.Google Scholar
  70. McBride, G., King, M. G., and James, J. W. (1965). Social proximity effects on galvanic skin responses in adult humans.Journal of Psychology 61: 153–157.Google Scholar
  71. McDowell, K. V. (1972). Violations of personal space.Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science 4: 210–217.Google Scholar
  72. Mehrabian, A. (1968a). Inference of attitudes from the posture, orientation, and distance of a communicator.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 32: 296–308.Google Scholar
  73. Mehrabian, A. (1968b). Relationship of attitude to seated posture, orientation, and distance.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 10: 26–30.Google Scholar
  74. Mehrabian, A. (1972).Nonverbal Communication. Aldine-Atherton, Chicago.Google Scholar
  75. Mehrabian, A., and Diamond. S. (1971). Effects of furniture arrangement, props and personality on social interaction.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 20: 18–30.Google Scholar
  76. Meisels, M., and Guardo, C. J. (1969). Development of personal space schemata.Child Development 40: 1167–1178.Google Scholar
  77. Patterson, M. (1973a). Compensation in nonverbal immediacy behaviors: A review.Sociometry 36: 237–252.Google Scholar
  78. Patterson, M. L. (1973b). Stability of nonverbal immediacy behaviors.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 9: 97–109.Google Scholar
  79. Patterson, M. L., and Sechrest, L. B. (1970). Interpersonal distance and impression formation.Journal of Personality 38: 161–166.Google Scholar
  80. Patterson, M. L., Mullens, S., and Romano, J. (1971). Compensatory reactions to spatial intrusion.Sociometry 34: 114–121.Google Scholar
  81. Pedersen, D. M., and Shears, L. M. (1973). A review of personal space research in the framework of general systems theory.Psychological Bulletin 80(5): 367–388.Google Scholar
  82. Pellegrini, R. J., and Empey, J. (1970). Interpersonal spatial orientation in dyads.Journal of Psychology 76: 67–70.Google Scholar
  83. Porter, E., Argyle, M., and Salter, V. (1970). What is signalled by proximity?Perceptual and Motor Skills 30(1): 39–42.Google Scholar
  84. Price, G. H., and Dabbs, J. M., Jr. (1974). Sex, setting, and personal space: Changes as children grow older. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Psychological Association. New Orleans.Google Scholar
  85. Rawls, J. R., Trego, R. E., McGaffey, C. N., and Rawls, D. J. (1972). Personal space as a predictor of performance under close working conditions.Journal of Social Psychology 86: 261–267.Google Scholar
  86. Rosenfeld, H. M. (1965). Effect of an approval-seeking induction on interpersonal proximity.Psychological Reports 17: 120–122.Google Scholar
  87. Rosenfeld, H. M. (1966). Approval-seeking and approval-inducing functions of verbal and nonverbal responses in the dyad.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 4: 597–605.Google Scholar
  88. Rosenfeld, H. M. (1967). Nonverbal reciprocation approval: An experimental analysis.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 3: 102–111.Google Scholar
  89. Russo, N. F. (1975). Eye-contact, interpersonal distance, and equilibrium theory.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31: 497–502.Google Scholar
  90. Seguin, C. A. (1967). The “individual space.”International Journal of Neuropsychiatry 3: 108–117.Google Scholar
  91. Smith, G. H. (1953). Size-distance judgments of human faces (projected images).Journal of General Psychology 49: 45–64.Google Scholar
  92. Smith, G. H. (1954). Personality scores and personal distance effect.Journal of Social Psychology 39: 57–62.Google Scholar
  93. Sommer, R. (1959). Studies in personal space.Sociometry 22: 247–260.Google Scholar
  94. Sommer, R. (1962). The distance for comfortable conversation: A further study.Sociometry 25: 111–116.Google Scholar
  95. Sommer, R. (1963). Further studies of small group ecology.Sociometry 28: 337–348.Google Scholar
  96. Sommer, R. (1968). Intimacy ratings in five countries.International Journal of Psychology 3: 109–114.Google Scholar
  97. Sommer, R. (1969).Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.Google Scholar
  98. Sundstrom, E. (1975). Toward an interpersonal model of crowding.Sociological Symposium, No. 14, pp. 129–144.Google Scholar
  99. Tesch, F. E., Huston, T. L., and Indenbaum, E. A. (1973). Attitude similarity, attraction, and physical proximity in a dynamic space.Journal of Applied Social Psychology 3(1): 63–72.Google Scholar
  100. Tolor, A., and Salafia, W. R. (1970). Validation study of the social schemata technique.Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association 5 (2): 547–548.Google Scholar
  101. Watson, O. M., and Graves, T. D. (1966). Quantitative research in proxemic behavior.American Anthropologist 68: 971–985.Google Scholar
  102. Willis, F. N. (1966). Initial speaking distance as a function of the speakers' relationship.Psychonomic Science 5: 221–222.Google Scholar
  103. Worthington, M. (1974). Personal space as a function of the stigma effect.Environment and Behavior 6(3): 289–297.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric Sundstrom
    • 1
  • Irwin Altman
    • 2
  1. 1.University of TennesseeKnoxville
  2. 2.University of UtahSalt Lake City

Personalised recommendations