Space, cognition, interaction 2: Person to person relationship in space

This is the second blogpost of a serie that concerns my thoughts about the topic “Space, cognition, interaction” that I address in my dissertation . Step 2 is about the person to person relationship in space (see step 1). A large amount of research about how spatiality shapes one’s behavior focused on co-present settings since it is the most recurrent situation of our lives. The best-known example of how space structures social interaction is proxemics: the distance between people is indeed a marker that expresses the kind of interaction that occurs, and reveals the social relationships between the interactants (Hall, 1966). Depending on the distance, Hall proposed four kinds of spheres (intimate, personal, social and public) that each affords different types of interactions. His point was also to show how theses interactions are culturally dependent and how distance constrains the types of interactions that are likely to occur. The perception of the “others” in space thus communicates to participants as well as to observers, the nature of the relationships between the interactants and their activity. Studies of 3D worlds show that proxemics are maintained in virtual environments (Jeffrey and Mark, 1998; Krikorian et al. 2000). These authors found that, even in virtual worlds, a certain social distance is kept between participants’ avatars. They noticed how spatial invasions produced anxiety-arousing behavior (like verbal responses, discomfort and overt signs of stress) with attempts to re-establish a preferred physical distance similar to the distance obverted in the physical world.

(picture courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division, FSA-OWI Collection taken as an example of how people will maintain differing degrees of distance depending on the social setting and their cultural backgrounds)

Proximity has also proved to improve various processes like conversation initiation. Communication is easier in physical settings than in mediated contexts. The physical environment increases the frequency of meetings, the likelihood of chance encounters and therefore community membership and group awareness thanks to informal conversations triggered by repeated encounters (Kraut et al., 2002). Furthermore, distance between people has an important influence on friendship formation, persuasion and perceived expertise (Latané, 1981). Latane shows that people are more likely to deceive, be less persuaded by and initially cooperate less with someone they believe to be distant.


Hall, E.T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension: Man’s Use of Space in Public and Private. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Jeffrey, P., & Mark, G. (1998). Constructing Social Spaces in Virtual Environments: A Study of Navigation and Interaction. In K. Höök, A. Munro, D. Benyon, (Eds.) Personalized and Social Navigation in Information Space, March 16-17, 1998, Stockholm (SICS Technical Report T98:02) 1998) , Stockholm: Swedish Institute of Computer Science (SICS), pp. 24-38.

Krikorian, D.H., Lee, J.S., Makana Chock T., & Harms, C. (2000). Isn't That Spatial?: Distance and Communication in a 2-D Virtual Environment. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 5(4).

Kraut, R. E., Fussell, S. R., Brennan, S. E., & Siegel, J. (2002). Understanding effects of proximity on collaboration: Implications for technologies to support remote collaborative work. In P. Hinds & S. Kiesler (Eds.) Distributed Work (pp.137-162), Cambridge: MA: MIT Press.

Latané, B. (1981). The psychology of social impact. American Psychologist, 36(4), 343-356.