Personal space and interaction style in talking to mothers about their children



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Nonverbal behaviors related to anxiety, immediacy, and the quality of communication were studied to determine the effects of interpersonal distance and interaction style in interviews. Forty women psychology students from the University of Houston were interviewed about their children and family lives using four different treatments in a 2 x 2 factorial experiment. Half of the participants were interviewed at an appropriately close distance of 3[1/2] to 4 ft. (1.1 to 1.2 m), and the others were interviewed at about 12 ft. (3.6 m), a noticeably too-far distance. The participants also were exposed to either an asymmetrical (question-and-answer) or a reciprocal (normal conversation) interaction contingency. The participants' behaviors were recorded on both video-tape and high fidelity audiotape. From these recordings data were obtained on facial regard (eye contact), illustrative and self-adaptive hand movements, forward-backward lean, shoulder orientation, sideways lean, arm and leg position asymmetry, hand relaxation, ah and non-ah speech disturbances, and self-disclosure. The principal hypothesis was that neither Spacing nor interviewing Style alone would produce direct effects on the dependent variables. Rather, specific interaction effects between the two factors were expected to demonstrate that interpretation of personal spacing behavior in interviews must be considered in the context of other factors, especially those defining the nature of the ongoing interaction. The prediction of an interaction was conceptualized in terms of consistency or inconsistency of social presentation on the part of the interviewer. While not all of the variables conformed to the specific predictions made for them, the predominance of the interaction effect in general over direct effects of either Spacing or Style was confirmed. A five variable model of the differences obtained by a stepwise discriminant analysis was significant in distinguishing the consistent from the inconsistent conditions at the .01 level. Unexpected, i.e., inconsistent, presentations provoked greater anxiety for the participants, and also greater interest or immediacy. Self-disclosure was not affected. In addition, relationships among nonverbal behaviors and some self-reported analogs were explored. Implications relevant to the literatures on interviewees' expectations and on the equilibrium theory for nonverbal behaviors were outlined.