“Spatial empathy” is an informal term used by expatriate workers in Hong Kong and then later in Japan and China who were typically from Australia, England, France and the United States. The term was use to describe the awareness that individuals have about how their proximity affects the comfort of the people around them. Even though cities such as Hong Kong, Japan and China were westernized, the walkways and public transport system were very crowded by comparison. The expatriates found that preventing intrusion into their personal space was difficult and at times impossible.
The foreign workers that were not accustomed to physical closeness and physical contact were made to feel violated by the locals. They felt that their privacy was being infringed upon and that their personal space requirements weren’t being met. What the workers failed to realize was that it was their responsibility to adapt to the cultural norms of the locals and not the other way around so while the locals had no spatial empathy the workers had no cultural empathy.
While spatial empathy was first coined to describe the differences between cultures it also has application within cultures as some people have different levels of tolerance with regards to their personal space. Naturally, it is your choice to decide what you will do with someone else’s preference, be it to respect it by reading their signals and give them space, or ignore it and invade it. I supposed it would have everything to do with what your goals happens to be. Will you respect the needs of the people around you and try to make them feel comfortable or will you invade their space to fulfill your own needs?