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Spatial empathy is an informal term used to describe the awareness of an individual to the proximity, activities and comfort of people surrounding them.
It is closely related to the notion of personal space, the concept that an individual has ownership of their immediate surroundings; and for others to invade this space represents an infringement on their privacy.
The degree to which different cultures exhibit spatial empathy differs dramatically. Typically, many developed Western countries consider unnecessary closeness to or physical contact with strangers (such as in a train carriage or store) as taboo. However, many Asian and Eurasian cultures do not exhibit the same aversion.
"Spatial empathy" was first termed by expatriate workers in Hong Kong, themselves typically from nations such as Australia, England, France and the United States. Part of the 'culture shock' of moving to this still very westernised city was the crowded walkways and public transport systems, where navigation through a crowd whilst avoiding physical contact often proved more difficult than in their home countries.
It has been suggested that the term spatial empathy can be interpreted as racist (i.e. it can imply that an understanding of personal space is a sign of a more developed country). However, for people traveling to countries where unnecessary physical contact is strenuously avoided, a high degree of spatial empathy can be interpreted as implying coldness, disconnection or even frigidity in a culture.
Spatial empathy has also been defined as awareness of the spatial condition that a remote person experiences. An "empathy vest" is a tool to achieve this.