An Investigation of a Simulated Spatial Technique as a Measure of Interpersonal Distancing Behavior
Due to ease of administration, many studies in the area of interpersonal distancing behavior have used simulated spatial measurement techniques. These have generally included manipulations of inanimate representations of people. They have often been assumed to be equivalent to behavioral measures of interpersonal distancing. The present investigation's major objectives were to determine the following: (1) extent to which a simulated spatial measure of interpersonal distancing is related to actual behavior; (2) whether interpersonal distancing can be understood in terms of a social learning model; (3) whether personality variables are related to a simulated spatial measure of interpersonal distancing; and (4) effects of sex differences and body orientation on interpersonal distancing.
Subjects, drawn from undergraduates enrolled in introductory psychology classes, were administered Rotter's Internality-Externality Scale. According to locus of control scores and sex, four groups were formed, male internals, male externals, female internals, and female externals. Subjects within each of those four groups were randomly assigned to either male or female confederate conditions, yielding the final eight groups (N=l0 for each group). Confederates were chosen so as to match as closely as possible the age and general appearance of the subject pool. All subjects were administered the Personal Research Form and were individually given two experimental tasks: (1) the simulated spatial measure in which they were asked to. place pairs of felt figures onto a board; (2) the behavioral measures in which unobtrusive measurements were taken of the distance they placed themselves from confederates at side and frontal body orientations. For subjects given same sex felt figures, on the simulated spatial measure, confederates in the behavioral measures were also of the same sex as the subjects. For subjects given mixed sex felt figures, the confederates were of the opposite sex.
The results indicated that there is no significant relationship between the simulated and behavioral measures of interpersonal distancing. The findings also provide only partial support for the view that interpersonal distancing may be understood in terms of a social learning model. On the behavioral measure, subjects with an internal locus of control reflected needs related to a desire for interpersonal closeness, while subjects with an external locus of control did not. Internals demonstrated closer interpersonal distancing on the simulated measure than externals. However, on the behavioral measure, internals did not maintain closer distance to others than externals. There was only limited evidence supporting the hypothesis that subjects' responses on the simulated measure were related to personality variables. Distancing at the frontal-body orientation was significantly closer on both the simulated and behavioral measures than for the side-body orientation. On both the simulated and behavioral measures there were no statistically significant differences in interpersonal distancing between male and female subjects nor between male and female confederates. Mixed sex felt-figure pairs were placed closer together than same sex pairs. However, there was no significant interaction of sex of subject by sex of confederate on the behavioral measure. Future research and applied implications are discussed.