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personal space

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The interpersonal distances and angles of orientation that individuals maintain in relation to each other in social interaction. A boundary regulation mechanism. Different cultural norms and contexts can affect these (see high-contact cultures; low-contact cultures). The term was coined by the American psychologist Robert Sommer (b.1929), author of a book of the same name, who noted that an individual's personal space is not necessarily like a spherical bubble since people tolerate strangers closer to their sides than directly in front of them. US research has shown that women tend to stand closer to each other than men do, though men adopt women's distance norms when speaking to women. See also interpersonal zones; territoriality.

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