Communications scholars began studying personal space and people’s perception of it decades ago, in a field known as proxemics. But with the population in the United States climbing above 300 million, urban corridors becoming denser and people with wealth searching for new ways to separate themselves from the masses, interest in the issue of personal space — that invisible force field around your body — is intensifying.
. . . According to scientists, personal space involves not only the invisible bubble around the body, but all the senses. People may feel their space is being violated when they experience an unwelcome sound, scent or stare: the woman on the bus squawking into her cellphone, the co-worker in the adjacent cubicle dabbing on cologne, or the man in the sandwich shop leering at you over his panini.
. . . Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist and the father of proxemics, even put numbers to the unspoken rules. He defined the invisible zones around us and attributed a range of distance to each one: intimate distance (6 to 18 inches); personal distance (18 inches to 4 feet); social distance (4 to 12 feet); and public distance (about 12 feet or more).
. . . In general most people understand the rules of personal space and heed the cues. Then again, the world is littered with clods. As Dr. Archer put it, people generally view personal-space rules in one of two ways: “the wrong way and my way.”
Source: Personal Space