THE EFFECTS OF RACE AND SEX ON PROXEMIC BEHAVIOR
IN AN INTERVIEW SETTING
Teresa J. Rosegrant and James C. McCroskey
This study investigated the effects of race and sex on interpersonal
distance preferences of interviewees in a dyadic interview setting with
a stranger. Interviewees in male-male dyads established greater interpersonal
distance than did interviewees in any dyad including at least one female.
White interviewees established greater interpersonal distance from black
interviewers than any other racial combination. Female-black interviewees
established closer interpersonal distance to all interviewers than did
not other sex-race interviewee combination.
Territoriality is generally conceived to be instinctual behavior for both humans and animals. In humans, however, this instinct is modified, and, to some extent, controlled by cultural influences. In interpersonal communication encounters the individual's territory, or personal space, can have an influence on the individual's communication behavior. Sommer notes an important distinction between general territoriality and personal space.1 Whereas a person's territory has an identifiable geographic location, the individual's personal space is not fixed, it travels with the person and is defined and defended as the person encounters other people.
Hall has used the term "proxemics" to refer to the study of the ways people structure and use space in their environment.2 In a series of cross-cultural studies Hall looked at culturally related differences in personal distance and other aspects of proxemic behavior.3 Hall indicates that the mixing of various culturally defined distances in conversation can cause interesting, but alarming effects. He found that the comfortable conversation distances for a Latin American or Arab were too close for a North American. Hall points out that when the differing cultures' proxemic behavior clash "there is interference during the encounter."4 In the case of the Arab and North American encounter he relates that, "Americans were not only aware of the uncomfortable feelings, but the intensity and the intimacy of the encounter with the Arabs was likely to be anxiety provoking."5 These results suggest that normal behavior for a person with one cultural background may result in proxemic invasion when the person interacts with a person with a different cultural background. Further, such invasion may disrupt the communication encounter and lead to negative interpersonal perceptions on the part of the two people involved.
Felipe and Sommer have reported research on the effects of spacial intrusion among people with similar cultural backgrounds.6 In a library setting they found that when there was invasion of subjects' territory they showed signs of avoidance or flight from the setting. The most clearly defined reactions involved forms of behavior compensation such as withdrawing arms, turning away,
or building a barrier with books. The overall effects of spacial invasion
were clearly disruptive for the subjects. This study was limited to same-sex
pairings. In a later study Patterson replicated the library setting study
but used the subjects' sex as an independent variable.7 Differences
were observed on the basis of sex of subject when interacting with the
intruder. Similarly, Little found
Teresa J. Rosegrant (M.S., Illinois State University, 1972) is a Ph.D.
candidate at the University of Illinois, James C. McCroskey (Ed.D., Pennsylvania
State University, 1966) is Professor and Chairman of the Department of
Speech Communication, West Virginia University.
that choices in personal space distances differed for males and females in friend and stranger dyadic settings.8
On the basis of the results of these studies it appears that even within a single culture spacial invasion is disruptive to individuals and that individual differences among people in the same culture, such as sex, may result in differential use of space in communication encounters. Both sex and race were observed by Baster to influence interpersonal spacing in a natural setting.9 He found significant differences in the distances of female-male pairings as compared to male-male pairings in both black and white ethnic groups. Baxter also observed a significant interaction effect between race and setting, with blacks having a closer distance than whites or Mexicans in an indoor setting. Thus from his descriptive study, Baxter offered strong support for possible differences in proxemic behavior that are attributable to sex and race.
The present study was designed to explore the effects of sex and race on interpersonal spacing in a dyadic, interview setting. This particular context was chosen for study because of its implications for many common communication encounters in our society, such as employment interviews. If regular differences in interpersonal spacing are related to the sex and/or race of the interviewee and/or interviewer, within the same general North American culture, there is a strong possibility that individuals encountering people of the opposite sex or of another race may unintentionally disrupt their communication with the other individual by violating their personal space, much in the same manner as the Arab-North American encounter described by Hall.10 If, for example, blacks were found to establish closer spacing relationships than whites, a black-white interaction might produce effects similar to the Arab-North American encounter, with the white perceiving the black as pushy and overly aggressive and the black perceiving the white as distant and unfriendly. An awareness of such a sub-cultural difference, however, could militate against such negative interpersonal perceptions. The primary purpose of this study, therefore, was to determine whether there are differential patterns of interpersonal spacing attributable to sex and/or race in an interview setting.
The first question addressed was whether there are differential interpersonal spacing patterns established as a result of sex and/or race in an initial encounter with a stranger. The second question with which this study was concerned was whether any observed patterns in initial spacing would be altered after individuals had an opportunity to engage in a brief interaction with the stranger. Since the variables of sex and race are usually very obvious in the first moments of an initial encounter with a stranger, they might be expected to have a major impact on initial interpersonal spacing. It is also reasonable to believe, however, that when an individual learns more about the stranger the individual's attitude toward the stranger may be less influenced by sex or race and based more on the new information. To the extent that this is true, then, initial differences in interpersonal spacing attributable to sex and/or race may be reduced.
Although no directional hypotheses were established a priori with respect to sex or race and interpersonal spacing, it was believed that both sex and race of both the interviewee (subject) and interviewer (confederate) would produce differential patterns of interpersonal spacing.
Subjects. Subjects were 240 randomly-selected (stratified) students enrolled in basic Speech courses at Florissant Valley Community College and Forest Park Community College in St. Louis, Missouri. Subjects were classified in two ways: Sex, male and female, and race, black or white. There were 60 white females, 60 black females, 60 white males, and 60 black males.
Confederates. Four confederates were employed as interviewers in the experiment: a black male, a black female, a white male, and a white female. Each confederate was involved in four conditions with fifteen subjects per condition. The two women and two mean were paired to have similar body size according to height and weight; also each wore informal clothing.
Instruments. 1) A taped grid, pre-marked by inches, was used to measure the inches between the closest leg of the chair of the subjects to that of the chair of the interviewer. 2) Two light-weight chairs were used. The interviewers' chair was placed at the one inch mark and the other placed away from the grid so the subjects could place it at their desired distance.
Design. There were four factors in the design, each with two levels. The factors comprised two levels of race of interviewer by two levels of race of subjects (black and white) by two levels of sex of interviewer by two levels of sex of subjects (male and female). Thus the black male, white male, black female, and white female interviewers each were paired with four types of subjects: black males, white males, black females, and white females. Each interviewer was involved in four interaction conditions. There were sixteen cells in the total design with fifteen subjects per condition. Four interviewers were used, each interviewing 60 subjects.
Training of Interviewers. All four confederates were briefed concerning their role in the experiment. They were instructed to sit on a designated chair. Each received a cover story that they were to use as an informal introduction of themselves. They were to give the impression that they were helping in the collection of data on attitudes toward candidates in a forthcoming election. Several practice interviews were conducted to be certain that all procedures were constant prior to the beginning of data collection.
Experimental Setting. The experiment took place in the video recording laboratories at Florissant and Forest Park. The confederate's chair was placed at a designated grid marking. The subject's chair was placed away from the grid towards the door. The interviewer was waiting in the studio. The subject was asked to go in, take a chair, and be seated. After the subject was seated, the experimenter entered the room, briefly explained what would take place, and introduced the interviewer at which time the interviewer presented the cover story on him/herself. This procedure took about two minutes. The experimenter then asked the subject to fill out a series of scales on the interviewer. While handing the subject the sheet with the scales, the exact inch at which the chair was placed was noted and recorded. The subject was told that the reason for completing the scales was to give the interviewer some feedback, since he/she was "new at this." After the subject had completed the scales (which normally took less than one minute), the experimenter collected the sheet, again noted the point at which the subject's chair was placed, and asked the subject to move closer to the interviewer. Again the exact point at which the subjects chair was placed was recorded. The experimenter departed and the confederate conducted a brief interview about the candidates for the election to maintain the experimental cover and then thanked and dismissed the subject. All subjects were debriefed after the final interview was completed.
The first and second interpersonal distance measures were submitted to four-way analyses of variance. When significant (p<.05) interaction F-ratios were obtained, individual cell differences were probed using the Sheffe procedure. The criterion for significance of all tests was set at p<.05.
The four-way analysis of variance of the initial seating distances resulted in three significant main effects: for sex of interviewer (F=28.71; male X=39.36, female x=29.85), sex of subjects F=9.84, male x=37.40, female x=31.81), and race of interviewer (F=14.84; black x=38.02, white x=31.21).
Three significant interaction effects were also observed. A significant interaction occurred between the sex of the interviewers and the sex of the subjects (F=9.79). Probing of this interaction indicated that the male subjects with am ale interviewer established significantly greater distance than the male subjects with a female interviewer or female subjects with either male or female interviewers. Dyads including at least one female did not differ significantly from one another (see Table 1).
The second significant interaction was between sex of subjects and race
of subjects (F=4.00). Both black and white male subjects established greater
distance than black female subjects. White female subjects were in between
these two extremes and did not differ significantly from any group of subjects.
(see Table 2).
MEAN INITIAL DISTANCE SCORES FOR SEX OF INTERVIEWER x SEX OR SUBJECTS*
Female Subjects 33.81 a 29.81 c
MEAN INITIAL DISTANCE SCORES FOR RACE OF SUBJECTS x SEX OF SUBJECTS*
White Subjects 35.94 a 33.92
The third significant interaction was between the race of the interviewers
and the race of the subjects (F=11.06). Although white subjects established
significantly greater distances between themselves and black interviewers
than they did between themselves and white interviewers, black subjects
indicated no significant differential seating behavior as a function of
race of interviewers (see Table 3).
MEAN INITIAL DISTANCE SCORES FOR RACE OF SUBJECTS x RACE OF
White Subjects 41.28 a 28.57 a
The four-way analysis of variance of the seating distances after the subjects had a brief interaction with the interviewer and were asked to move closer resulted in four significant main effects: for sex of interviewer (F=31.74; male x=23.30, female x=16.23), for sex of subjects (F=17.22; male x=22.38, female x=17.20), for race of interviewer (F=15.38; black x=22.24, white x=17.34), and for race of subjects (F=17.78; black x=17.16, white x=22.42).
There were also three significant interaction effects observed, involving the same three combinations of variables that were observed to interact in the analysis of initial distances. A significant interaction occurred between the sex of the interviewers and the sex of the subjects (F =7.99). As was the case in the analysis of the initial distances, the male subjects with male interviewers established significantly greater distances than did any dyad including a female. The other conditions did not differ significantly among each other (see Table 4).
The second significant interaction involved sex of subjects and race of subjects (F=5.82).
MEAN SECOND DISTANCE SCORES FOR SEX OF INTERVIEWER x SEX OF
Female Subjects 18.95 a 15.45 c
MEAN SECOND DISTANCE SCORES FOR RACE OF SUBJECTS x SEX OF SUBJECTS*
White Subjects 23.50 c 21.33 b
MEAN SECOND DISTANCE SCORES FOR RACE OF INTERVIEWERS x RACE OF
White Subjects 27.07 a b c 17.76 a
Female black subjects established significantly closer distances than any other combination. The other conditions did not differ significantly from each other (see Table 5).
The third significant interaction was between the race of the interviewers and the race of the subjects (F=12.49). White subjects established significantly greater distance from black interviewers than any other combination. The other conditions did not differ significantly from each other (see Table 6).
The results of these two analyses suggest three clear patterns. 1) Males establish greater interpersonal distance from males than they do from females, than females do from males, or than females do from females. 2) Whites establish greater interpersonal distance from blacks than they do from whites, than blacks do from whites, or than blacks do from blacks. 3) Female blacks establish closer distances than female whites or either black or white males. Interpersonal distance, therefore, appears to be at least partially a function of the sex and race of both individuals in a dyadic interview setting of the type examined in this study.
This study was designed to investigate the effects of sex and race on interpersonal spacing in a dyadic interview setting. The sex and race of both the interviewer and the interviewee were found to have an impact on the interpersonal spacing choices of the interviewee.
Any generalization from this study must be tempered by limitations imposed in the method employed. Only the interviewee's behavior was subject to variability and observation. The interviewers were strangers to the subjects and the period of the interview studied was relatively brief. No attempt was made to determine the effect of the interviewee's interpersonal spacing behavior on the interviewer. Nevertheless, some generalizations seem appropriate.
Interviewees in male-male dyads established greater interpersonal distance than any other sexual combination. White interviewees established greater interpersonal distance from black interviewers than any other racial combination. Female-black interviewees established closer interpersonal distance to all interviewers than did any other sex-race interviewee combination. It is clear from these results that substantial distance variation is introduced into interview dyads by race and sex, at least when the members of the dyad are strangers as in the case of this study. Whether this would be true if the members of the dyad were familiar with each other previously remains to be tested. The present study provides only slight information beyond the stranger level. In this study the brief initial interview did not produce a substantial alteration in seating behavior (the correlation between the two distance scores was .81). This cannot, however, be taken as evidence that a longer period of familiarity would fail to result in different distance behavior.
In our society there is frequent opportunity for different sex-race
combinations of strangers to interact in an interview setting. The results
of this study clearly indicate that sex and race are factors which influence
the interpersonal distance chosen. While in the present study the confederate
interviewers were not allowed to influence directly the interpersonal distance,
outside the laboratory such influence is normally possible. It is likely,
therefore, that there are frequent instances in which various sex-race
combinations in dyads produce conflict in interpersonal distance preferences.
Previous research indicates that when such conflict is present, it is likely
to result in disruption of the communication transaction. Future research
that investigates the impact of spacial intrusion in various sex-race combination
dyads, and the means by which such impact may be controlled, is badly needed.
1R. Sommer, "Studies in Personal Space," Sociometry, 22 (1959), 247-260.
2E. T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1966).
3E. T. Hall, The Silent Language (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1959); "The Silent Language in Overseas Business," Harvard Business Review, 38 (1960), 87-96; "A System for Notation of Proxemic Behavior," American Anthropoligist, 65 (1963), 1003-1026.
4Hall, "A System for Notation," p. 1005.
5Hall, "A System for Notation," p. 1005.
6N. J. Felipe and R. Sommer, "Invasions of Personal Space," Social Problems, 14 (1966), 206-214.
7M. Patterson, "Compensatory Reactions to Spacial Intrusions," Sociometry, 34 (1971), 114-121.
8K. Little, "Personal Space," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1 (1965), 237-247.
9J. Baxter, "Interpersonal Spacing in Natural Settings," Sociometry, 33 (1970), 444-456.
10Hall, "A System for Notation."
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