Street Cop Training

June 27, 2022

Proxemics

Proxemics is the study of space, not outer space. I’m not trying to explain why Pluto is no longer considered a planet, nor do I care. Instead, proxemics is studying the space around us and how we can navigate said space. 

In the 1960s, a cultural anthropologist named Edward T. Hall wrote a book titled the Hidden Dimension. The book lays out “proxemic zones” that Hall developed while observing people in the United States. The problem is that Hall never actually collected any data. He also made judgments on different cultures based on how much space they would keep in different situations. The problem again arises that there was no data collected.

We do know that different cultures keep different proxemic distances during social situations. There are also sub-culture and individualistic differences that you should know. Everyone is an individual, and to forget that is a great mistake when reading the amount of proxemic distance someone keeps from you and all other body language. 

Why should you care about proxemics? Two reasons. 

Number one, you want to know when someone attempts to gain proxemic distance from you. For example, did they take a couple of small steps back or push their chair back away from you? Take note of when this occurs. Was something said or done that may have caused this proxemic distance to increase.

Number two, I want to know when someone is trying to invade my space. You have to consider the aforementioned cultural and individualistic differences when trying to judge if someone is attempting to invade your space on purpose. There are close-talkers out there, as was highlighted in a Seinfeld episode back in the day. Someone invading your space is cause for concern when they lean over at the waist in a “towering over you” fashion. It doesn’t have to be someone taller than you that do this leaning in movement, as you will observe shorter people do it as well. This towering over is not specific to humans as it can be found by members of the animal kingdom as well.

When observing proxemic distance, it is essential to remember that nothing is 100%. This is true with reading body language, and proxemics is no exception. A person could be leaning in at the waist because they have lower back pain. Another individual may back away from you not because of something they said. Still, because they thought about a vacation, they are going on next week because they want to be healthy, and distance will allow them to keep your disgusting bacteria away. Reading the proxemic distance changes is another tool you should have in your body language reading toolbox.

Reference

G. M. S. (2018). The spaces between us: A story of neuroscience, evolution, and human nature. Oxford University Press. 

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