I don't know of any particular finished theory, but I can say with a certain certainty that the use of white space has strong psychological (and also physiological) bondings.
First of all, white space improves legibility (here's an interesting study about it. They measured comprehension and speed using text with different white space to create a chart of "white space preference"). According to a research cited here (Lin, D. Y. M. 2004. "Evaluating older adults"), whitespace can increase comprehension by almost 20%.
It also, as you mentioned, increases attention to a particular object creating separation and flow between elements. And in general, humans just don't respond well to clutter, so an open space will have connotations with emotional and physical comfort. Whitespace usually conveys an image of sophistication and elegance (think of mac). I guess in a way, you are saying your brand can afford to sacrifice space.
You can find a long list of related articles in this great review. And there's also people who don't agree with the spreading tendency of white space and make a very interesting point, such as this guy.