The relationship between personal appearance and interpersonal spacing



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In an effort to explore man's use of space, the present study was designed to investigate the relationship between personal appearance cues (such as dress, ethnic background, and sex) and interpersonal spacing. To investigate this relationship an unselected sample of male and female Anglo- American college students were exposed to Blacks and Whites photographed in various modes of dress; the observers were then evaluated on the spatial distances they adopted from the photos. Analysis of variance of the spatial distances adopted by observers revealed that interpersonal, spacing is based on combinations of personal appearance cues rather than on any one factor such as intensity of dress, ethnic group or sex. Relevant to the area of interracial relationships was the finding that white college students did not differentiate in their spatial behavior between Blacks and Whites, at least in terms of the symbolic interaction. A secondary focus of the study concerned the quantitative number of written responses stimulated by the variously attired individuals. To investigate this, observers were asked to describe the personal characteristics which they could attribute to the photographed individuals. Their responses were then analyzed in terms of the various personal appearance cues. Analysis of variance of the number of response characteristics generated by the observers revealed very little; observers responded to combinations of personal appearance cues rather than to any one variable and did not differentiate between Blacks and Whites. Although these findings might imply an equality in student's attitudes toward Blacks and Whites, further data from the study tend to contradict this. Incidental to the original design, a finer analysis of the response data indicated that there were significant qualitative differences in the characteristics attributed; and that students did differentiate significantly between Blacks and Whites. Some observers responded on a primarily descriptive level while others went beyond the raw information to a more inferential level. Students tended to describe and make more superficial statements about Blacks while making more inferential or analytic responses about Whites. The implication here is that White observers do react to Blacks on the basis of the fact that they are Blacks. This was also supported by the finding that observers did not vary their spatial distances from Blacks despite the introduction of contrasting appearance cues (while varying their distances from Whites on this basis). It might be speculated that if description as contrasted with inference is a form of defensiveness, it is possible that Whites are more defensive in response to Blacks and have more difficulty making inferences about them, thus casting their responses in descriptive form. The finding also suggests that Whites tended not to perceive individual differences among Blacks. This suggests the possible operation of stereotyping and an attitude of prejudice toward Blacks. This study carries with it certain implications for future research in cross-cultural interactions between Blacks and Whites. Since differences in the reactions to Blacks and Whites do not manifest themselves in the use of geographic space (at least in terms of a symbolic interaction), but rather are manifested in cognitive, perceptual and verbal processes, it would appear more fruitful to explore cross-cultural interactions in terms of cognitive and verbal distinctions.



Personal space, Interpersonal relations, Clothing and dress