Affective Influences on Nonverbal Immediacy

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation focused on compensatory relationships among the nonverbal "immediacy" behaviors—interpersonal distance, gaze, trunk lean, and body orientation--which are hypothesized to be important in the communication of interpersonal attitudes (Mehrabian, 1972; Patterson, 1973). Argyle and Dean (1965) have proposed that in social situations there are both approach and avoidance forces (e.g., affilia- tive needs, fear of intimacy) which eventually balance at some level of mutual comfort for the interactants. Once a comfortable intimacy-equilibrium has been established, any change in immediacy by one interactant requires a compensatory adjustment by the other. Since distance, gaze, trunk lean, and body orientation are assumed to contribute to overall intimacy, changes along any one or more of these dimensions may lead to compensation. The current investigation examined the possibility (Breed, 1972; Patterson, 197^) that compensatory relationships among the nonverbal immediacy behaviors are related to affective dimensions of an interaction. Specifically, it was hypothesized that increased proximity would be most likely to produce compensatory (decreasing) gradients along other immediacy dimensions (gaze, lean, orientation) under conditions of negative affect (i.e., when attraction is low and the interaction situation is threatening).

Female undergraduates (N=60) seated at distances of two, five and eight feet from a female confederate were inter i viewed under conditions designed to induce either positive or negative affect. Confederate-directed gaze, forward lean, body orientation and speech duration (the dependent measures) were monitored by observers behind a one-way mirror during each half of a six-minute interview. The hypothesized modera ting influence of affective conditions on compensatory immedi acy processes was expected to be reflected in significant statistical interaction between the two primary independent variables, distance and affect.

The hypothesis that compensation would be enhanced under conditions of negative affect was not supported. Where compensatory immediacy gradients were observed, they were either unrelated to the affect manipulation (shoulder orienta tion) or were more pronounced when the climate of the interview was positive and nonthreatening (gaze duration).

Several aspects of the data contradict the assumption that the so-called immediacy variables are related to intimacy or attraction. For example, immediacy was not greater under favorable interview conditions despite evidence from the post-session self-report measures indicating that the affect manipulation was effective in producing differential levels of comfort and liking for the interviewer. In fact, the one clear difference for affect was in a direction opposite to that predicted: Subjects leaned forward more wht n the interviewer was cold, disapproving.; and nonsupport ive. The immediacy behaviors also failed to correlate with the sel -report measures of ccmfort/attraction, both within and across affect conditions. In future research on intimacy- equi ibrium (compensation) in dyadic interaction, it is recommend! d that investigators provide independent evidence that the r onverbal behaviors used to index intimacy under given laboi itory conditions are in fact doing so.

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