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Human spatial behavior has been the focus of hundreds of previous research studies. However, the conclusions and generalizability of previous studies on interpersonal distance preferences were limited by some important methodological and sampling issues. The objective of the present study was to compare preferred interpersonal distances across the world and to overcome the problems observed in previous studies. We present an extensive analysis of interpersonal distances over a large data set (N = 8,943 participants from 42 countries). We attempted to relate the preferred social, personal, and intimate distances observed in each country to a set of individual characteristics of the participants, and some attributes of their cultures. Our study indicates that individual characteristics (age and gender) influence interpersonal space preferences and that some variation in results can be explained by temperature in a given region. We also present objective values of preferred interpersonal distances in different regions, which might be used as a reference data point in future studies.
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Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
2017, Vol. 48(4) 577 –592
© The Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/0022022117698039
Preferred Interpersonal Distances:
A Global Comparison
Agnieszka Sorokowska1, Piotr Sorokowski1, Peter Hilpert2,
Katarzyna Cantarero3, Tomasz Frackowiak1, Khodabakhsh
Ahmadi4, Ahmad M. Alghraibeh5, Richmond Aryeetey6, Anna
Bertoni7, Karim Bettache8, Sheyla Blumen9, Marta Błażejewska1,
Tiago Bortolini10,11, Marina Butovskaya12,13,14, Felipe Nalon
Castro15, Hakan Cetinkaya16, Diana Cunha17, Daniel David18,
Oana A. David18, Fahd A. Dileym5, Alejandra del Carmen
Domínguez Espinosa19, Silvia Donato7, Daria Dronova12, Seda
Dural20, Jitka Fialová21, Maryanne Fisher22, Evrim Gulbetekin23,
Aslıhan Hamamcıoğlu Akkaya24, Ivana Hromatko25, Raffaella
Iafrate7, Mariana Iesyp26, Bawo James27, Jelena Jaranovic28, Feng
Jiang29, Charles Obadiah Kimamo30, Grete Kjelvik31, Fırat Koç24,
Amos Laar6, Fívia de Araújo Lopes15, Guillermo Macbeth32,
Nicole M. Marcano33, Rocio Martinez34, Norbert Mesko35, Natalya
Molodovskaya1, Khadijeh Moradi36, Zahrasadat Motahari37,
Alexandra Mühlhauser38, Jean Carlos Natividade39, Joseph
Ntayi40, Elisabeth Oberzaucher38, Oluyinka Ojedokun41, Mohd
Sofian Bin Omar-Fauzee42, Ike E. Onyishi43, Anna Paluszak1,
Alda Portugal17, Eugenia Razumiejczyk32, Anu Realo44,45, Ana
Paula Relvas17, Maria Rivas46, Muhammad Rizwan47, Svjetlana
Salkičević25, Ivan Sarmány-Schuller48, Susanne Schmehl38, Oksana
Senyk26, Charlotte Sinding49, Eftychia Stamkou50, Stanislava
Stoyanova51, Denisa Šukolová52, Nina Sutresna53, Meri Tadinac25,
Andero Teras54, Edna Lúcia Tinoco Ponciano55, Ritu Tripathi56,
Nachiketa Tripathi57, Mamta Tripathi57, Olja Uhryn58, Maria Emília
Yamamoto15, Gyesook Yoo59, and John D. Pierce , Jr.33
Human spatial behavior has been the focus of hundreds of previous research studies. However, the
conclusions and generalizability of previous studies on interpersonal distance preferences were limited
by some important methodological and sampling issues. The objective of the present study was to
compare preferred interpersonal distances across the world and to overcome the problems observed
in previous studies. We present an extensive analysis of interpersonal distances over a large data set
(N = 8,943 participants from 42 countries). We attempted to relate the preferred social, personal, and
intimate distances observed in each country to a set of individual characteristics of the participants, and
some attributes of their cultures. Our study indicates that individual characteristics (age and gender)
influence interpersonal space preferences and that some variation in results can be explained by
temperature in a given region. We also present objective values of preferred interpersonal distances
in different regions, which might be used as a reference data point in future studies.
698039JCCXXX10.1177/0022022117698039Journal of Cross-Cultural PsychologySorokowska et al.
578 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 48(4)
interpersonal distance, spatial behavior, culture, cultural psychology
1University of Wroclaw, Poland
2University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
3SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Sopot, Poland
4Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran
5King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
6University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana
7Catholic University of Milan, Italy
8The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong
9Pontificia Universidad Católica Del Perú, Lima, Peru
10Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
11D’Or Institute for Research and Education, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
12Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS, Moscow, Russia
13Russian State University for the Humanities, Russia
14Moscow State University, Russia
15Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Brazil
16Ankara University, Turkey
17University of Coimbra, Portugal
18Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
19Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico
20Izmir University of Economics, Izmir, Turkey
21Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
22Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
23Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey
24Cumhuriyet University, Sivas, Turkey
25University of Zagreb, Croatia
26Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Ukraine
27Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Benin City, Nigeria
28University of Belgrade, Serbia
29Central University of Finance and Economics, Beijing, China
30University of Nairobi, Kenya
31Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
32National University of Entre Rios, Concepción del Uruguay, Argentina
33Philadelphia University, PA, USA
34University of Granada, Spain
35University of Pécs, Hungary
36Razi University, Kermanshah, Iran
37University of Science and Culture, Tehran, Iran
38University of Vienna, Austria
39Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
40Makerere University Business School, Kampala, Uganda
41Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Nigeria
42Universiti Utara Malaysia, Sintok, Malaysia
43University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
44University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
45University of Tartu, Estonia
46Universidad del Magdalena, Santa Marta, Colombia
47University of Karachi, Pakistan
48Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, Slovakia
49TU Dresden, Germany
50University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
51South-West University “Neofit Rilski,” Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria
52Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia
53Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia, Bandung, Indonesia
54Mõttemaru OÜ, Tartu, Estonia
55Rio de Janeiro State University, Brazil
56Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, India
57Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, India
58Lviv State University of Internal Affairs, Ukraine
59Kyung Hee University, Seoul, South Korea
Corresponding Author:
Agnieszka Sorokowska, Institute of Psychology, University of Wroclaw, ul. Dawida 1, 50-527 Wroclaw, Poland.
Sorokowska et al. 579
Interpersonal space, or interpersonal distance, is an essential feature of individuals’ social behav-
ior in relation to their physical environment and social interactions (Hall, 1966; Hayduk, 1983).
It is a distance we maintain in interpersonal interactions, or in other words, “breathing space,” an
abstract area that surrounds each individual (Hall, 1966; Madanipour, 2003; Sommer, 1969),
comparable with either a shell, a soap bubble, or aura (Sommer, 1969). According to Hall (1966),
this space helps regulate intimacy in social situations by controlling sensory exposure. The pos-
sibility of increased visual, tactile, auditory, and olfactory stimulation is enhanced at closer dis-
tances, and people may feel intruded and react negatively when others adopt and maintain too
close of an interpersonal distance (Felipe & Sommer, 1966; Hall, 1966; Mazur, 1977; Sawada,
2003; Smith, 1981; Sommer, 1969).
Classifying Social Distance
The classical proxemic theory (Hall, 1966) classifies interpersonal distance into four categories,
each of which reflects a different relationship between individuals (Baldassare & Feller, 1975).
These four types of distance are (a) public distance (above 210 cm; in this distance, voice shifts
to higher volumes, and eye contact is minimized); (b) social distance, maintained during more
formal interactions (122-210 cm, this distance precludes all but visual and auditory stimuli); (c)
personal distance, maintained during interactions with friends (about 46-122 cm, vision is no
longer blurred, vocalizations increase); and (d) intimate distance, maintained in close relation-
ships (from 0 to 46 cm, this distance is characterized by poor and blurred vision, and increased
perception of heat and olfactory stimuli; Hall, 1966).
Based on Hall’s (1966) theory, the interpersonal distance people choose while interacting with
others depends not only on the personal attitude toward another person but also on certain char-
acteristics of dyads, like their gender or age, and the social environment where the interaction
takes place. Indeed, studies confirm that the preferred interpersonal distance might be influenced
by gender (Aiello, 1987; Horenstein & Downey, 2003; Ozdemir, 2008; Patterson & Edinger,
1987; Smith, 1981; Vranic, 2003). Furthermore, age seems to be an important factor for predict-
ing dyad distances (Aiello, 1987; Burgess, 1983; Gérin-Lajoie, Richards, & McFadyen, 2006;
Ozdemir, 2008; Rapp & Gutzmann, 2000; Webb & Weber, 2003); younger people generally
prefer closer interpersonal distances than older individuals.
According to Hall’s (1966) theory, cultural norms are the most important factors to describe
the preferred social distance. Hall stated that what is intimate in one culture may be personal or
social in another, and suggested that there are specific customs regarding the spatial behavior. He
grouped the cultures into two different classes: contact and noncontact cultures. Contact cultures
use closer interpersonal distances and engage in more touching, whereas people in noncontact
cultures exhibit opposite preferences and behaviors (Hall, 1966). The general rule of grouping
suggested by Hall was the geographic location, with Southern European, Latin American, and
Arabian countries being the so-called contact cultures, and North America, Northern Europe, and
Asian populations being the noncontact cultures (Hall, 1966). Although Hall’s theory was fre-
quently supported just by anecdotal evidence (see Baldassare & Feller, 1975), this notion consti-
tuted a basis for classical research on the cultural effects on human spatial behaviors. Below, we
present a short overview of the previous findings and conclude with proposing some variables
that could possibly account for previously observed variability.
Cultural Differences
Early cross-cultural research on spatial behaviors indicates that contact and noncontact groups
differ significantly in preferred social distance. Studies show that Mediterranean societies prefer
580 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 48(4)
closer interactive distances than Northern European and Northern American societies (Evans &
Howard, 1973; Ford & Graves, 1977; Hayduk, 1983; Little, 1968; Triandis & Triandis, 1967;
Watson & Graves, 1966). Notably, many of these early cross-cultural studies were performed in
the United States with foreign and native students as participants (Baldassare & Feller, 1975).
Although some results were later confirmed (Beaulieu, 2004; Evans, Lepore, & Allen, 2000;
Remland, Jones, & Brinkman, 1995; Sommer, 2002), other empirical findings do not fully sup-
port the notion that interpersonal distances are closer in Southern European, Latin American, and
Arab countries than in North America, Northern Europe, and Asian populations (Forston &
Larson, 1968; Mazur, 1977; Remland et al., 1995). The original classification of Asian societies
as predominantly noncontact is also problematic given the mixed results of previous studies
(Beaulieu, 2004; Sussman & Rosenfeld, 1982; Watson, 1970). Furthermore, the spacing prefer-
ences in African countries have never been examined.
While showing variability of interpersonal distancing across cultures, previous results lack expla-
nations as to why this variability occurs. It is an open question whether the division of cultures onto
contact/noncontact based on geographical location is a detailed enough grouping rule for all popula-
tions across the globe, especially given that contact norms can vary widely across countries within
the same continent even though they share cultural similarities (Shuter, 1976). It is likely that what
has been explained in terms of vaguely defined cultural norms is underpinned by some psychological
and ecological variables. Thus, we consider here several new variables that could be enumerated as
distinguishing the countries that were previously found to be contact and noncontactenvironmen-
tal factors (temperature of the inhabited region, parasite stress in a given country, and population
growth rate) and sociopsychological factors (collectivism/individualism level, and wealth of the
society, defined as Human Development Index [HDI]). We briefly justify our choices below.
Environmental factors. In the group of environmental factors, temperature may likely be related to
the differences in cultural patterns of social proximity, as it was found to influence social dis-
tances during shorter interactions (IJzerman & Semin, 2010; Williams & Bargh, 2008; Zhong &
Leonardelli, 2008). Hotter climate affects emotional intensity (Sorokowski, Sorokowska, Onyi-
shi, & Szarota, 2013), which is likely related to intense and closer interpersonal contacts. Impor-
tantly, the hypothesized relationship of distance preferences and temperature might be associated
with Hall’s (1966) theory, as countries classified previously as contact cultures were also at the
same time rather warm (see Sommer, 2002).
However, increased temperatures result in increased parasite stress. This relationship offers
an alternative, competing hypothesis on temperature–distance association that would include the
indirect effect temperature has on interpersonal distance. Many diseases can spread by a simple
touch (Schweon, Edmonds, Kirk, Rowland, & Acosta, 2013), and a recent study showed that
people were able to detect some infection cues in the body odor of others—this early innate
immune response altered the pleasantness of body odor samples (Olsson et al., 2014). Reduction
of interpersonal contacts or increasing the interpersonal distance has for centuries been a part of
behavioral adaptation against epidemics (Fenichel, 2013), and in regions that have historically
suffered from high levels of infectious diseases, people are indeed less extraverted and open
(Schaller & Murray, 2008). Interpersonal distancing pattern might be thus another important fac-
tor in pathogen avoidance, as maintaining farther distance can decrease potential contamination
risk. As regions of higher temperature typically suffer from higher parasite stress than regions of
lower temperature, the increased parasite stress might indirectly lead to higher interpersonal
distances in cultures of warmer climate.
Furthermore, maintaining too close interpersonal distance may result in increased arousal
(Epstein & Karlin, 1975) and various forms of aggression and violence (see Regoeczi, 2008, for
a review). It is therefore not surprising that social crowding produces avoidant response—this
might be a way of avoiding conflicts (Worchel & Teddlie, 1976). Therefore, people
Sorokowska et al. 581
from countries of rapidly increasing number of inhabitants might be more likely to prefer farther
interpersonal distances, thus reducing the risk for potential conflicts. Withdrawal response in
such situations might be of particular importance in regions of higher temperature, as heat might
increase aggression (Anderson, 1987) and social unrest (Yeeles, 2015).
Sociopsychological factors. In the group of social-psychological factors, regions characterized by
closer interpersonal distances were rather poorer than regions characterized by farther preferred
distances. The putative relationship of this variable to interpersonal distance is further suggested
by the recent finding that the HDI was related to the level of social trust in a country (Özcan &
Bjørnskov, 2011). We tested this observation by including HDI as one of the grouping variables in
our study. Also, interpersonal distance might increase when interacting dyads differ in social status
(Aiello & Jones, 1971; Dean, Willis, & Hewitt, 1975; Little, 1968). Possibly, in countries charac-
terized with higher social inequality (i.e., lower HDI), the preferred distances might be greater.
Furthermore, the Individualism–Collectivism dimension (IC), first defined by Hofstede
(1981), is one of the most important constructs used for the classification of cultures. People from
collectivistic cultures rely to a considerable degree on close intragroup relationships, whereas
people from individualistic cultures are highly independent and have strong feelings of autonomy
within the group (Hofstede, 2001). In the present study, a 178-nation index of collectivism called
ingroup favoritism from Van de Vliert (2011) study was utilized. Contrary to Hofstede’s (2001)
index, Van de Vliert index includes data on almost all countries around the world, which enabled
us to analyze all the regions participating in our research.
In all, there is compelling evidence of cross-cultural variations in proxemic behaviors. Such dif-
ferences might be underpinned by cultural norms, but at the same time, these norms could be
associated with certain psychological and ecological variables. To replace previous speculations
with solid empirical evidence, in the present study, we examined interpersonal distance prefer-
ences of 8,943 people inhabiting 53 study sites (42 countries) across the globe and across different
social contexts. Given the exploratory nature of our empirical investigation, we are aware that at
this stage of research, we cannot yet explain the exact mechanisms of influence of these variables
on interpersonal distance preferences (although in the “Discussion” section, we speculate about
the nature of relationship between the distance preferences and their significant predictors).
Based on the prior assumption that people from different cultures differ in interpersonal distance
preferences in different social contexts (social, personal, and intimate; Hall, 1966), we hypothe-
size significant variability in preferred interpersonal distances across countries when approach-
ing a stranger (i.e., social distance), an acquaintance (i.e., personal distance), or a close person
(i.e., intimate distance; Hypothesis 1). Second, consistent with numerous previous studies, we
hypothesize that certain characteristics of interacting individuals, like gender or age, influence
the preferences they have for interpersonal distance, with women and younger people maintain-
ing closer interpersonal distances (Hypothesis 2). Third, we assume that cultural differences in
interpersonal distancing are to some degree universally related to environmental and sociopsy-
chological factors (Hypothesis 3). Based on earlier research and our assumptions, we hypothe-
size that some environmental and psychological factors could predict variability of interpersonal
distance across countries. Lower population growth rate, higher ingroup favoritism, and higher
HDI should be associated with closer interpersonal distance preferences. Furthermore, closer
interpersonal distances should be observed in cultures of higher temperature, but it needs to be
582 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 48(4)
remembered that higher temperature increments parasite stress. Thus, two competing hypotheses
might be presented regarding the temperature and distance preferences. If the effect of tempera-
ture on personal distance preferences is direct, closer interpersonal distances should be observed
in cultures of higher annual average temperature. If the effect of temperature is indirect, we
expect the opposite association.
Materials and Methods
Our study was comprised of 8,943 participants (4,013 men, 4,887 women, and 43 unidentified)
inhabiting 53 study sites in 42 countries. All participants provided informed consent prior to their
inclusion in the study. In every country, authors recruited the participants personally. We intended
to conduct our study among community members, and not students, with as diverse a sample of
inhabitants as possible for each study site. Therefore, participants were recruited through adver-
tisements, through personal contacts, in shopping malls, and so on; the recruitment methods were
very similar across all study sites. All participants were specifically recruited for this study, and the
study was conducted during the same time across all locations. The participants were ensured
anonymity of their responses. Demographic characteristics of the samples, as well as a list of all
study sites, are presented in Table 1.
Participants completed a questionnaire consisting of demographic questions (age, sex) and three
graphic questions concerning their preferred interpersonal distance. Based on the classical Hall’s
(1966) theory, we measured three separate categories of preferred interpersonal distances—dis-
tance to (a) a stranger, (b) an acquaintance, and (c) a close person. These measures reflected the
previously defined categories of interpersonal distance: (a) social distance, (b) personal distance,
and (c) intimate distance (Hall, 1966), respectively.
To conduct cross-cultural comparisons, the questions asked needed to be easily understood by
participants all over the world (the task could not be demanding or ambiguous). Thus, we decided
to use a simple, graphic task, because it was mostly language independent (see Figure 1). Answers
were given on a distance (0-220 cm) scale anchored by two human-like figures, labeled A for the
left one and B for the right one (Figure 1). Participants were asked to imagine that he or she is
Person A. The participant was asked to rate how close a Person B could approach, so that he or
she would feel comfortable in a conversation with Person B. The participants marked the dis-
tance at which Person B should stop on the scale below the figures. Details on the applied method
can be found in Supplementary File 1. In every country, the participants completed paper-and-
pencil questionnaires individually.
In addition to participants’ report on gender and age, we analyzed country-specific environmen-
tal and sociopsychological factors: zoonotic and nonzoonotic parasite stress in a given region
(Fincher & Thornhill, 2012), population growth rate (United Nations report, 2015), ingroup favorit-
ism (Van de Vliert, 2011), average, yearly temperature in a given study site (provided by coauthors
from given study sites), and the HDI (Human Development Report, 2013;
Statistical Analyses
Our hypotheses focused on the general assumption that people across different cultures univer-
sally vary in the distances they prefer when interacting with others. The presented analyses aimed
to explain the cultural similarities and variability. In the current sample, participants were nested
Sorokowska et al. 583
Table 1. Demographic Characteristics for Each of the 42 Countries Included in the Study.
Sample size Age
Total Men Women M (SD) Range
Argentina 201 71 130 32.31 (11.16) 18-72
Austria 200 115 85 26.59 (9.73) 17-65
Brazil 480 300 180 36.51 (10.35) 19-70
Bulgaria 102 63 39 38.35 (8.95) 21-59
Canada 68 25 43 38.43 (10.15) 24-62
China 119 47 72 33.09 (6.41) 22-58
Colombia 100 41 59 41.10 (11.81) 21-74
Croatia 614 301 313 44.75 (11.65) 19-83
Czech Republic 167 80 87 36.48 (15.93) 18-79
Estonia 149 50 96 42.93 (12.30) 20-74
Germany 154 62 92 31.59 (13.39) 18-74
Ghana 103 52 51 40.42 (9.53) 23-65
Greece 94 42 49 38.77 (9.07) 20-71
Hong Kong 100 54 40 47.09 (9.98) 20-72
Hungary 237 76 161 37.80 (9.56) 19-62
India 299 135 164 34.10 (7.99) 20-73
Indonesia 92 25 67 41.74 (9.90) 23-66
Iran 607 261 345 38.80 (10.87) 18-88
Italy 322 127 195 48.39 (11.06) 20-86
Kazakhstan 120 60 60 37.03 (8.18) 21-61
Kenya 94 47 47 32.30 (7.26) 20-50
Malaysia 99 49 50 40.03 (8.92) 26-62
Mexico 158 77 80 38.81 (11.24) 19-77
Nigeria 603 299 297 39.00 (9.06) 18-70
Norway 100 72 28 41.29 (13.51) 22-77
Pakistan 125 55 66 36.17 (10.33) 20-69
Peru 102 49 53 31.66 (10.49) 20-58
Poland 428 161 254 40.07 (11.66) 20-87
Portugal 293 99 181 46.04 (11.17) 18-81
Romania 56 8 48 34.98 (6.68) 25-51
Russia 224 120 104 38.61 (13.86) 19-87
Saudi Arabia 198 87 111 36.16 (8.31) 22-70
Serbia 105 19 86 24.96 (7.01) 20-56
Slovakia 233 76 157 42.76 (11.74) 22-72
South Korea 100 50 50 41.76 (7.74) 27-59
Spain 199 93 106 47.10 (9.36) 24-67
Switzerland 179 110 69 48.77 (12.87) 21-75
Turkey 391 238 153 42.70 (13.59) 20-83
The United Kingdom 100 42 58 45.04 (11.57) 20-78
Uganda 93 56 35 34.89 (10.55) 17-72
Ukraine 311 66 245 29.20 (8.73) 18-61
The United States 424 153 271 41.74 (15.62) 18-83
Total 8,943 4,013 4,887 39.26 (12.25) 17-88
within countries and, therefore, we used multilevel modeling (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002). To
test the first hypothesis about variability in interpersonal distance across cultures, we used a
584 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 48(4)
stepwise approach. First, we computed three null models for social, personal, and intimate inter-
personal distance, respectively (see Supplementary File 1 for details of the models). To test sig-
nificant differences of interpersonal distance across countries, we used a graphical method
developed by Goldstein and Healy (1995), which allows comparing large groups of means simul-
taneously (see Supplementary File 1 for details of the method). Significant difference is sug-
gested when the confidence intervals of two countries do not overlap.
To test our second hypothesis of predicting the variability in interpersonal distance across
countries, we computed three models (for social distance, personal distance, and intimate dis-
tance) including all predictors discussed in the “Introduction” section in the three multilevel
models (see Supplementary File 1 for details of the models).
We used SPSS 19 for descriptive statistics. For multilevel modeling, we used the lme4 pack-
age (Bates, Maechler, Bolker, & Walker, 2014) in R Version 3.0.2 (R Core Team, 2014). To find
the best fitting model, we followed Zuur, Ieno, Walker, Saveliev, and Smith’s (2009) suggestion
to compare the inclusion of different random and fixed effects by deviance tests.
Supplementary Table S1 shows means and standard deviations of each type of interpersonal dis-
tance for each sample. Overall, average interpersonal distance differed across various types of
distance (social distance, personal distance, intimate distance; Msocial = 135.1 cm; Mpersonal = 91.7
cm; Mintimate = 31.9 cm), supporting prior findings.
Variability of Interpersonal Distance Across Countries
We hypothesized that people differ in their preferred interpersonal distance across countries.
Figure 2 shows the results of the graphical mean comparison across all 42 countries for
Figure 1. Graphic of distance shown to participants.
Sorokowska et al. 585
interpersonal distance with strangers, acquaintances, and partner (i.e., social distance, personal
distance, intimate distance). Inspecting the mean comparisons in Figure 2 shows significant vari-
ability in interpersonal distance across countries for different social interactions, supporting
Hypothesis 1. In addition, as means for social distance are rank ordered, the order for personal
and intimate distances provides insights in distance preferences pattern in relation to distance
with strangers. The order for preferred personal distance indicates that the variability of this dis-
tance is in similar rank, whereas the social distance in a country is less predictive for the preferred
intimate distance. This result is additionally confirmed by the inter-correlations between certain
distance types. Pearson’s r correlations showed high correlations of social and personal distance
(r = .69) and personal and intimate distance (r = .70); the correlation between social and intimate
distance was significant as well (r = .38), but not equally high as in the other cases.
Factors Predicting Variability in Interpersonal Distance Across Countries
We assumed certain environmental and psychological predictors of interpersonal distance across
countries. Results of the three multilevel models are shown in Table 2.
We found that the variability of social distance across cultures was predicted by temperature
1 = −.82; p = .01) and gender (β8 = 3.67; p = .04). The higher the annual temperature of a coun-
try, the closer was the preferred distance to strangers. Furthermore, women on average preferred to
maintain greater distance with strangers. The result for personal distance show that age (β7 = .08;
p = .01) and gender (β8 = 2.65; p = .03) predicted the variability, suggesting that older people
preferred greater distance and, again, women preferred greater distance with acquaintances.
Finally, the results show that the intimate distance is predicted by age (β7 = .08; p = .02) and
temperature (β1 = 1.27; p < .001). This indicates that older people preferred greater
Figure 2. Mean values (cm) of social, personal, and intimate distance across all nations.
Note. Nonoverlap of the confidence intervals between any two countries indicates significant mean differences. Means
for interpersonal distance with strangers are rank ordered.
586 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 48(4)
physical distance to people they considered close, whereas the effect of temperature was reversed
in comparison with interpersonal distance with strangers—the higher the annual temperature of
a country, the greater was the preferred personal distance to a close person. Figure 3 illustrates
the three types of preferred distances with regard to participants’ gender and age.
Owing to the quality and quantity of the data collected so far on the topic of cultural differences
in proxemic behaviors, it was necessary and desirable to update the questionnaires and variables
measured to erase the bias observed in previous studies. We present here an analysis of interper-
sonal distance preferences over a large data set (8,943 participants from 42 countries). As hypoth-
esized, we observed significant variability in social, personal, and intimate distances across
countries. Variability in preferred social distance was predicted by participants’ gender and coun-
ty’s average temperature, indicating that women and people in colder countries prefer greater
distance toward strangers. Furthermore, the variability of preferred personal distance was pre-
dicted by participants’ age and gender; older people and women prefer greater distance to an
acquaintance. Finally, variability of intimate distance was explained by age and temperature,
indicating that older people and people in warmer countries prefer greater distance with people
they consider close.
Compared with previous studies, the present design had six distinctive features: (a) our study
involved a large-scale analysis among thousands of people; (b) all the participants answered the
same questionnaire illustrated with graphic representation of interpersonal distance; (c) all the
participants took part in the study in the same year (2013); (d) samples of populations were het-
erogeneous in terms of age, sex, and professions; (e) we considered five different regions of the
world, also Africa, which was not included from previous analyses; and (f) we examined several
environmental and sociopsychological variables that possibly could explain the variability in
social distance. We also present up-to-date values of three categories of preferred interpersonal
distances in different regions, which might be used as a reference data point in future studies.
This data set is especially important given that cross-cultural comparison studies are becoming
more popular in social sciences.
Table 2. Parameter Estimates for Multilevel Model.
Fixed effects
(intercept, slope)
Preferred interpersonal distance
Social distance
Personal distance
Intimate distance
(close person)
Estimate SE t p Estimate SE t p Estimate SE t p
Intercept 135.14 26.96 5.0 .000 91.72 21.43 4.28 .000 31.85 24.66 1.29 .205
Age 0.03 0.04 0.81 .418 0.08 0.03 2.55 .011 0.08 0.03 2.39 .017
Gender 3.67 1.69 2.17 .037 2.65 1.19 2.23 .034 0.11 0.82 0.13 .895
0.26 4.20 0.06 .952 −1.22 3.33 −0.37 .716 −0.84 3.84 −0.22 .827
HDI −34.13 32.37 −1.05 .299 −27.96 25.71 −1.09 .284 0.36 29.75 0.01 .999
Nonzoonotic 1.07 2.48 0.43 .669 −0.98 1.99 −0.45 .653 −3.26 2.25 −1.45 .156
Zoonotic −3.86 3.28 −1.18 .248 −1.69 2.61 −0.64 .527 0.44 2.99 0.15 .884
Temperature 0.82 0.33 −2.46 .015 0.08 0.28 0.29 .773 1.27 0.29 4.37 .000
5.18 4.15 1.25 .220 3.73 3.30 1.13 .265 2.25 3.80 0.59 .558
Note. Significant estimates are in bold (p values are two-tailed). N = 8,943. HDI = Human Development Index.
Sorokowska et al. 587
Cultural Differences in Proxemic Behaviors
Among environmental factors, our results regarding temperature are consistent with findings
showing that climatic demands interact with wealth resources in influencing a variety of cultural
tendencies (Fischer & Van de Vliert, 2011; Van de Vliert, 2013; Van de Vliert, Schwartz, Huismans,
Hofstede, & Daan, 1999). However, we observed a meaningful association between distance pref-
erences and mean temperature, without distinguishing between demanding winter cold and
demanding summer heat. Thus, our results and previous research (Van de Vliert et al., 1999) sug-
gest that the unipolar, mean temperature might be a reasonable predictor of some psychological
variables that could be used instead, or in addition to the climatic demand variable (Fischer & Van
de Vliert, 2011; Van de Vliert, 2013), depending on the hypotheses and study aims.
It is worth noticing that in our study, the direction of temperature effect differed for social
and intimate distance. In warmer countries, people preferred to maintain closer distances
toward strangers—but farther toward the intimate partners. The result regarding closer dis-
tance in hotter climates is consistent with the literature. IJzerman and Semin (2010) showed
that compared with colder conditions, warmer conditions induced greater social proximity;
even within the United States, people in warm latitudes were shown to exhibit a closer contact
behavior with more touch than their counterparts in colder climates (Andersen, 1988). IJzerman
and Semin (2010) explained their findings in the context of Lakoff and Johnson’s (1999)
embodied realism, that is, grounding the abstract idea (in this case—warmer feelings) in the
physical situation (warmer temperature). Relatedly, other studies showed that social exclusion
induces perceptions of lower temperature (Zhong & Leonardelli, 2008), and physical proxim-
ity of other people induce perceptions of higher temperature (IJzerman & Semin, 2010).
However, in the case of intimate distance, the result of our study differed from those obtained
previously. Perhaps, this outcome resulted from specificity of distancing preferences in colder
Figure 3. Mean values (cm) of social (gray), personal (light gray), and intimate distance (dark gray) for
men and women in different age groups summed for all nations.
588 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 48(4)
(and not in hotter) countries. Although both heat and cold are demanding environmental condi-
tions (Fischer & Van de Vliert, 2011), it is possible that some negative effects of colder climate
can be alleviated through closer intimate distances. Another explanation could be that although
the increased temperatures might directly lead to smaller social distances, augmented parasite
prevalence in hotter climates might also indirectly affect distance preferences in close relation-
ships by increased risk of certain infections.
Overall, we found no direct effect of cultural-level parasitic stress (zoonotic and nonzoonotic
parasite stress; Fincher & Thornhill, 2012), which seems particularly interesting, given that
evolved disease-avoidance mechanisms and contemporary social cognition are indeed related
(Faulkner, Schaller, Park, & Duncan, 2004). Therefore, perhaps other health-related variables
would provide a better fit to our model, for example, prevalence of different infectious diseases.
Also, the parasitic threat could play a more important role in real dyad behavior while being
unrelated to preferences. Finally, as discussed above, it is probable that parasitic diseases would
be good predictors of interpersonal distances as long as the strong, direct impact of temperatures
was excluded. This hypothesis is consistent with previous research, showing that interactive
impacts of climatic demands and income resources alleviate any effects parasitic stress might
have on culture (Van de Vliert & Postmes, 2012).
In the group of sociopsychological factors, significant fixed effects revealed gender differ-
ences in preferred social and personal distance, with women generally preferring greater dis-
tances. However, the random effects showed in more detail that gender effect was especially
pronounced in Switzerland, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Brazil, Austria, and India for
social distance, and Switzerland, Malaysia, China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Poland, and Nigeria for
personal distance. As our study is a preliminary exploration of possible, cross-cultural determi-
nants of preferred distances, it is hard to present any definite explanations of such findings.
Generally, enforcing closer proximinity during dyad interactions conveys higher dominance
(Burgoon, 1991). Dominance is typically related to male psychological characteristics, and
behaviors consistent with such stereotype might be especially strong in some cultures. In addi-
tion, women in some cultures can be more sensitive to social situations and avoid dominant
“invasions” of personal space of people they are not highly familiar with. This explanation would
be consistent with the notion that the interpersonal distance people choose depends also on the
degree of understanding of a social situation, that is, familiarity with social norms (Bogardus,
1954). Also, our findings might be partially due to the methodology used in our study—we did
not specify the sex of an approaching individual, and it is possible that interaction distances
might differ depending on the assumed sex of interlocutor.
Still, it needs to be remembered that higher distances preferred by women are inconsistent
with most previous studies (Aiello, 1987; Horenstein & Downey, 2003; Ozdemir, 2008; Patterson
& Edinger, 1987; Smith, 1981; Vranic, 2003), suggesting that women rather prefer closer inter-
personal distances than men (but see Heshka & Nelson, 1972). There are some possible reasons
as to why these differences emerged. First, many of the previous studies were conducted many
years ago, and maybe the social norms related to dyadic interactions in these times were different
than they are now. Furthermore, the differences may reflect the marked increase in globalization
and increased internationalization over the last several decades. Finally, it is also unclear whether
most previous findings refer to distances between strangers, acquaintances, or close persons
(e.g., Gérin-Lajoie et al., 2006; Ozdemir, 2008; Smith, 1981; Webb & Weber, 2003). Perhaps the
observed discrepancies result from a simple fact that in our study, the specified context influ-
enced the declarations of participating men and women.
We also observed that age was a significant predictor of personal and intimate distance. As
discussed in the introduction, our findings are consistent with previously observed outcomes
(Aiello, 1987; Burgess, 1983; Gérin-Lajoie et al., 2006; Rapp & Gutzmann, 2000; Webb &
Weber, 2003). Overall, younger people are more likely to engage in physical contact with others
Sorokowska et al. 589
(Rands & Levinger, 1979). Possibly, this result could be explained with changes in social norms
across generations.
Limitations and Future Directions
Although the distinction proposed in our study provides a novel alternative for previous, geo-
graphic division on contact versus noncontact cultures, and the presented data might stimulate
new research on proxemic behaviors, there exist some limitations of our findings.
First, perhaps, other variables, not analyzed in the current study, could also explain the inter-
personal distance preferences. To create better and more exact models, future studies should
include more predicting variables of various categories, including different individual-level vari-
ables, for example, height of interacting individuals, or their disease susceptibility.
Second, we concentrated on preferences for interpersonal distance and not on real choices.
These two might be different, as shown, for example, by studies regarding mate preferences and
mate choices (Sorokowski, Sabiniewicz, & Sorokowska, 2015; Todd, Penke, Fasolo, & Lenton,
2007). However, some of our findings are consistent with results of experimental studies regard-
ing real dyadic interactions (Borisova & Butovskaya, 2004). Nevertheless, further studies should
experimentally test the findings of our research.
Third, in our study, we measured distance preferences across three predefined categories of
interpersonal distance (stranger, acquaintance, and a close person). It needs to be mentioned that
descriptors of these categories (“a close relationship”) could evoke some spatial associations
(“close distance”). Also, simultaneous assessment of three types of distance could result in
responses being slightly interdependent. Researchers in future works could control this factor by
separating answer sheets for distance categories by some unrelated tasks, or by using a between-
subject design, with each participant in each country assessing his or her preferences for one type
of distance only.
Finally and ideally, in future studies, it could be tested how reliably the sample like ours rep-
resents the interpersonal distancing phenomena on a global level. Such an approach would allow
researchers to be more precise in estimating generalizability of the findings. Still, in the case of
our research, the participating sample represents many nations and the observed findings should
be a close proxy of global preferences for interpersonal distances.
The authors thank Chinwe Frances Inogbo, Regina Cejudo de la Sierra, Maria Fernanda Morales Perez,
Barbara Baranyai, Adrienn Bálint, Gabriella Kuch, Tímea Kiss, Emese Kozma, Margaréta Nagy, Zsófia
Magyar, and Éva Virág for their help with data collection; they also thank Professors Corey L. Fincher and
Randy Thornhill for kindly permitting them to use their data on parasite stress.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or
publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article: Czech Science Foundation GAČR P407/16/03899S grant to Jitka Fialová, Polish
Ministry of Science and Higher Education: Iuventus Plus grant #IP2014 043773 and Scholarship to
Agnieszka Sorokowska for years 2013-2016, Scholarships to Piotr Sorokowski for years 2012-2017, Polish
National Science Centre ETIUDA scholarship #2013/08/T/HS6/00408 to Agnieszka Sorokowska, Deanship
of Scientific Research at King Saud University Support to Ahmad M. Alghraibeh, and Grant Agency of
Czech Republic GAUK 918214 grant to Jitka Fialová.
590 Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 48(4)
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... The notion of personal space also varies from culture to culture, gender, or age. For instance, South Americans generally require less personal space than Asians [29]. The notion of social distance between people in normal circumstances is a social construct, affected by restrictive measures. ...
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The spread of COVID-19 at a large scale and at a rapid pace indicates the lack of social distancing measures at multiple levels. The individuals are not to be blamed, nor should we assume the early measures were ineffective or not implemented. It is all down to the multiplicity of transmission factors that made the situation more complicated than initially anticipated. Therefore, in facing the COVID-19 pandemic, this overview paper discusses the importance of space in social distancing measures. The methods used to investigate this study are literature review and case study. Many scholarly works have already provided us with evidence-based models that suggest the influential role of social distancing measures in preventing COVID-19 community spread. To further elaborate on this important topic, the aim here is to look at the role of space not only at the individual level but at larger scales of communities, cities, regions, etc. The analysis helps better management of cities during the pandemics such as COVID-19. By reflecting on some of the ongoing research on social distancing, the study concludes with the role of space at multiple scales and how it is central to the practice of social distancing. We need to be more reflective and responsive to achieve earlier control and containment of the disease and the outbreak at the macro level.
... Meskipun demikian, jarak dalam proxemics sangat dipengaruhi oleh keadaan lingkungan sekitar. Sorolwska, et al. (Sorokowska, et al., 2017) menjelaskan bahwa, budaya sangat mempengaruhi jarak nyaman setiap orang. ...
... However, raw correlations showed the opposite patterns, meaning that participants from countries with higher temperatures experienced lower intimacy and commitment levels. As results of previous studies also yielded contradictory conclusions 28,29 , future investigations might attempt to deepen our understanding of the role of climate and temperature on humans' feelings and behaviors. ...
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Recent cross-cultural and neuro-hormonal investigations have suggested that love is a near universal phenomenon that has a biological background. Therefore, the remaining important question is not whether love exists worldwide but which cultural, social, or environmental factors influence experiences and expressions of love. In the present study, we explored whether countries’ modernization indexes are related to love experiences measured by three subscales (passion, intimacy, commitment) of the Triangular Love Scale. Analyzing data from 9474 individuals from 45 countries, we tested for relationships with country-level predictors, namely, modernization proxies (i.e., Human Development Index, World Modernization Index, Gender Inequality Index), collectivism, and average annual temperatures. We found that mean levels of love (especially intimacy) were higher in countries with higher modernization proxies, collectivism, and average annual temperatures. In conclusion, our results grant some support to the hypothesis that modernization processes might influence love experiences.
... Thus, personal space (how close a person can stand to colleagues or strangers) varies widely from one culture to another. According to [51], the choice of distance from others is influenced by where a person grew up. They found that the variability of the social distance across cultures can be predicted by temperature (warmer stand closer), age (older stand farther), and gender (women stand closer). ...
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Accessing parks without transmitting viruses would ensure not depriving people of parks’ health benefits during pandemics. This study attempts to develop a practical tool for park managers to assess the risk of contracting respiratory contagious illnesses, decide on meaningful mitigation measures, and monitor the effect of these measures. The assessment is based on the spatial and temporal behaviors of users at each park open space type (POST), particularly the behaviors that may impact the risk of illness transmission. The researcher created a checklist, including five factors relating to users: physical distancing, density, duration of stay, percentage of users wearing masks, and frequency of surface touch; then, the implementation of the tool was demonstrated by selecting a sample zone from Jeddah waterfront park, Saudi Arabia, while COVID-19 was active. User behavior data were collected at the POSTs of the sample zone, using behavioral mapping and tracking methods. After analyzing the data using ArcGIS Desktop and SPSS Statistics software, the data were used to fill out the composed checklist to assess the risk at POSTs. The findings indicated that the waterfront railing area, playground, and pier were the POSTs with the highest risk. By using the checklist, park managers can contribute to the success of non-pharmaceutical mitigation interventions at a local scale.
This project sought to understand when ideology is relevant (or not) to predicting contact avoidance of ‘others’ during the COVID‐19 pandemic. Right‐leaning ideologies (political conservatism, right‐wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation) were not expected to predict greater contact avoidance per se, but rather exhibit selective avoidance of outgroup (vs. ingroup) members. White British participated in one exploratory (Study 1 N = 364) and two pre‐registered (Study 2 N = 431, Study 3 N = 700) studies. As expected, right‐leaning ideologies were significantly stronger predictors of greater preferred personal distance and contact discomfort regarding foreign outgroups (vs. British ingroup) in Studies 1 and 3 (partially supported in Study 2). Ideology rarely predicted ingroup reactions. This Ideology × Target pattern was itself not moderated by the perceived COVID‐19 threat. Pre‐pandemic theorizing that heightened behavioural immune system responses are associated with heightened right‐leaning ideologies appear insufficient for use in actual pandemic contexts, especially when highly politicized.
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Observational studies have suggested that with time, some diseases result in a characteristic odor emanating from different sources on the body of a sick individual. Evolutionarily, however, it would be more advantageous if the innate immune response were detectable by healthy individuals as a first line of defense against infection by various pathogens, to optimize avoidance of contagion. We activated the innate immune system in healthy individuals by injecting them with endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide). Within just a few hours, endotoxin-exposed individuals had a more aversive body odor relative to when they were exposed to a placebo. Moreover, this effect was statistically mediated by the individuals’ level of immune activation. This chemosensory detection of the early innate immune response in humans represents the first experimental evidence that disease smells and supports the notion of a “behavioral immune response” that protects healthy individuals from sick ones by altering patterns of interpersonal contact.
Assessed interpersonal distance between seated conversants from 3 cultures varying in purported contact norms. 19 male and 23 female Japanese, 18 male and 16 female Venezuelan, and 16 male and 15 female American undergraduates had a 5-min conversation on a common topic with a same-sex, same-nationality confederate. Three hypotheses were tested: (a) When speaking their native languages, Japanese will sit farther apart than Venezuelans, with Americans at an intermediate distance; (b) females will sit closer than males; and (c) foreign Ss, when speaking English, will more closely approximate American conversational distance than when speaking their native languages. The hypotheses were generally confirmed and support E. T. Hall's (1966) distinction between cultures in terms of their proxemic manifestations of social contact norms. (21 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).