our understanding of human behavior
William J. Ickinger, PhD
Contact the author for further information.
SOME DEFINITIONS OF PROXEMICS
The methodology for the study of interpersonal distancing (proxemic) behavior described on this website has several advantages over other techniques that have been used in this type of research. I will very briefly summarize the major advantages, as I see them, below.
There is a large body of research on proxemic behavior and I will assume that you have some familiarity with it. If not, Jack Aiello's literature review cited in the "BRIEF READING LIST..." appended to this overview is probably still a good source of further information. Many variables have been shown to influence interpersonal distancing behavior and there are still many issues to be resolved before it could be said to be truly well understood. However, the great majority of the findings, as well as the common experience of most people, seem to support the basic idea that we usually attempt to minimize stress in interpersonal interaction and that this is reflected in our proxemic behavior. Also, interpersonal distancing behavior seems to be closely related to perceptions of the other's "interpersonal attractiveness," although "attractiveness" seems to be a complex construct that does not lend itself to simple generalizations.
The main advantage claimed for the methodology described in the package is that it provides a more reliable, valid, and sensitive measure of proxemic behavior than other measurement.
1. As a laboratory methodology it permits better control of experimental and extraneous factors than other methods using more naturalistic settings. It also simplifies dealing with informed consent.
2. By essentially "digitizing" the behavior of experimental subjects, it produces data that lends itself to more sophisticated conceptual and statistical analysis than the
data produced by other measurement techniques known to the author.
a. It is the only way I know to operationalize approach/avoidance gradients in interpersonal distancing behavior. (See the paper, "A Study on the Simulation of Proxemic Behavior" for a brief discussion of the significance of this for theory testing, and for an example of the technique.)
b. The data is also in a form that can be readily analysed using the powerful and well studied techniques detailed in the Iacobucci & Wasserman paper cited in the attached BRIEF READING LIST at the end of this overview.
c. Leslie Hayduk, one of the most respected researchers and reviewers in proxemics research, has suggested that personal space can best be characterized as a "momentary preference, strongly dependent on one's preference a moment earlier," rather than as a relatively static bubble, and has demonstrated an analytical technique using LISREL. ("Personal space: The conceptual and measurement implications of structural equation models" Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 1985). The data produced by this methodology should be almost ideal for this type of analysis.
3. A potential possible advantage of the methodology comes from its use of a "standardized" and reproducable environment in which the effects of many different types of variables (environmental factors such as scents or lighting, psychological factors, interpersonal effects, cultural factors, etc.) can be varied, observed and analysed with precision. Over a period of time this could enable researchers to build up a commensurable body of results, using proxemic behavior as a dependent variable, where the magnitude and nature of the effect of these different types of influences could be directly compared.
Although There will always be a need for many methodological approaches, I feel that the lack of such a set of rigorousand generally accepted "core" findings has hindered the study of proxemic behavior.
I would argue that the physical distance that we maintain with other people is, in principle, at least as sensitive and reliable an indicator of our responses to them, or their social actions, as the verbal self reports commonly used in psychological research. The methodology described in this package holds the promise of a quantum leap forward in our ability to measure and interpret this interpersonal distancing behavior.
New instrumentation, such as the radio telescope in astronomy or the PET scanner in neuroscience, opened up new "windows" through which researchers in these fields could observe, with positive and unexpected consequences for their fields of study. There is a possibility that this methodology could open a similar new "window" into human behavior.
Since the experimental scenario is not naturalistic there may be questions about the external validity of the findings. Probably each researcher will have to make his or her own judgement about the seriousness of this problem. At the end of the videotape (available from the author) I have included excerpts from actual experimental runs from my research and it may be useful to view these to get a feel for the behavior of experimental subjects. Please see the enclosed TAPE LOG for more information. My own feeling is that proxemic behavior is deeply rooted and not fundamentally affected by the scenario (except perhaps by the stress produced by the "different" environment, which appears to dissipate fairly quickly). The results I have obtained have been in agreement with theoretical expectations and other results obtained in more naturalistic settings.
In addition to this overview, you should find four items available on this website;
TWO RESEARCH PAPERS,
PSYCHOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS AND INTERPERSONAL DISTANCE
(may be downloaded in PDF format)
A STUDY ON THE SIMULATION OF PROXEMIC BEHAVIOR
(may be downloaded in PDF format)
A Ph.D. dissertation from Yale University
A BEHAVIORAL GAME METHODOLOGY FOR THE STUDY OF PROXEMIC BEHAVIOR
(available for reference online)
An explanatory videotape (available from the author on request) and a TAPE LOG (table of contents) for the above videotape. (The TAPE LOG may be downloaded in PDF format)
Very briefly, the first paper (Psychological Characteristics and Interpersonal Distance) does not really highlight the main advantages of the methodology (ie approach/avoidance analysis) but is intended to describe the methodology and explore its external validity through a conventional analysis of the results obtained in a fairly large study.
The second paper (A Study on the Simulation of Proxemic Behavior) describes the type of analyis that really should be performed with the apparatus, approach/avoidance analysis. To the best of my knowledge, this methodology is the only valid way to operationalize gradients of approach and avoidance in interpersonal distancing behavior.
The Ph.D. dissertation is not currently downloadable because of its large size and some formatting inconsistancies in the present PDF version. It is available online for reference, and is a resource for many questions related to the development of the methodology. The Table of Contents is comprehensive and extensively bookmarked to make it easier to access specific topics.
The videotape tells you just about everything you would probably ever want to know about the methodology, and very likely more. The Tape Log is a guide to the videotape. If you have a VCR with a standard counter that shows minutes and seconds you can use this to find various specific segments of the tape that may be of particular interest.
I think that the most useful item for most reviewers is the second paper mentioned above (A Study on the Simulation of Proxemic Behavior), because of the potential advantages of approach/avoidance analysis. This paper was intended to be read by someone who has some familiarity with the methodology, so you may need to read some of the other material before getting into it. If so, I recommend first reading at least the METHOD section of the PSYCHOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS... paper to get an overview and some details such as the specific instructions read to subjects.
Then, at some point, you might want to obtain the videotape.
A. The introduction, from about time = 0:40 to 5:40 may be helpful.
B. Many "technical" details are discussed from about time = 11:40 to 35:45.
C. Excerpts from actual experimental runs are provided from time = 1:19:30 to 1:39:00.
The excerpts from actual experimental runs at the end may be particularly helpful in giving you some idea of how people (experimental subjects) respond to the setup. For example, the very noticably different behavior of the subject in excerpt 4, compared to the other three subjects, is fairly typical of the low verbal/low eye contact condition.
Finally, once again, the approach/avoidance analysis demonstrated in the "Simulation" paper is, in my mind anyway, the main advantage the methodology has over other ways of studying proxemic behavior.
BRIEF READING LIST ON PROXEMIC BEHAVIOR
Aiello, John R. (1987) Human Spatial Behavior. in Stokols, D. & Altman I. (eds.) Handbook of Environmental Psychology. New York: John Wiley & Sons
At the time of this writing, the most recent comprehensive review of the proxemics literature. A very thorough summary of the theoretical frameworks and research findings related to proxemic behavior. Contains a five-page discussion of measurement issues and the measurement problems that have plagued proxemics research. The methodology described in this videotape is an attempt to address some of these problems.
Burgoon, J., Buller, D., & Woodall, W. (1989) Nonverbal Communication: The Unspoken Dialog. New York: Harper & Row
A fairly recent overview that summarizes the research on proxemic behavior in the broader context of nonverbal communication in general.
Hall, E. T. (1966) The Hidden Dimension. New York: Doubleday
The "classic" on proxemic behavior. Somewhat dated but still interesting and useful. An anthropological perspective.
Iacobucci, D. & Wasserman, S. (1988) A General Framework for the Statistical Analysis of Sequential Dyadic Interaction Data. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 379-390
(The abstract from the article.)
Recent interest in sequential dyadic interactions has motivated researchers to develop methods appropriate for the analysis of such data. After briefly reviewing a series of methodological papers focusing on the analysis of discrete-valued observations, we present a general framework for studying many substantive effects, including dominance and autodependencies, in social interactions measured on dyads. We show how this framework allows a researcher to study dyadic interactions measured at two or more time points on one or more relations. The methods described here are general enough to permit the simultaneous analysis of the sequential relational variables and attribute variables (such as sex of actors or emotional status of the dyad) recorded on either the dyad or the actors.
Patterson, M. (1983) Nonverbal Behavior: A Functional Perspective. New York: Springer-Verlag
An interesting theoretical perspective on non-verbal behavior. Describes two other approaches to a standardized experimental setting for proxemics research, the "Ickes paradigm" and the "Patterson paradigm."
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