First Advisor

Patrick O. Marsh

Term of Graduation

Summer 1969

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Speech






Oral communication, Content analysis (Communication), Interpersonal relations



Physical Description

1 online resource (4, vii, 64 pages)


Proxemics is an area of study devoted to the interrelated theories of man's use of space as a special elaboration of culture. Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist, has begun to draw these theories together in his work dealing with proxemics.

It is the purpose of this study to determine whether certain dimensions of interpersonal conversations vary with the distance between the conversants. Three distances were used as experimental variables. Intimate distance was set at nine inches, personal distance at three feet, nine inches, and social distance at eight feet. A total of fifty-four subjects was used with nine pairs situated in each of the three distances. Conversations between dyads were tape recorded and subjected to content analysis.

Eight categories were established to cover certain dimensions hypothesized to exist in interpersonal communication. Data from the content analysis were subjected to statistical interpretation with six out of eight hypotheses revealing significant differences. The hypotheses and principal findings are as follows:

  • Hypothesis 1. Frequency of references to the speaking situation will vary with the distance variables. A significant difference was found. Intimate distance conversants referred least to the situation and social distance conversants referred most often to the situation. Personal distance subjects' references were closely allied with the expected frequency.
  • Hypothesis 2. Time orientation as revealed by verb tense will vary with the distance variables. This hypothesis also revealed a significant difference. All subjects chose to use the present tense most often. Intimate and personal distance conversants preferred the future tense second and the past tense last. Subjects in social distance chose the past tense second and the future tense least.
  • Hypothesis 3. Frequency of references to self and others will vary with the distance variables. No significant difference was found.
  • Hypothesis 4. Total pause time will vary with the distance variable. Total pause time did not differ.
  • Hypothesis 5. Signs of tension (such as laughing, coughing, sighing) will vary with the distance variables. A significant difference existed in this category. Intimate distance conversants revealed the most tension releases, social distance the second most, and personal distance the least.
  • Hypothesis 6. Types of statements will vary with the distance variables ("asking" and "giving" information). A significant difference was found. Subjects placed at intimate distance gave and asked for the most information. Subjects in social distance ranked second in both "giving" and "asking" for information and personal distance subjects ranked third in both categories.
  • Hypothesis 7. Frequency in changing the topic of conversation will vary with the distance variables. Different distances did affect the changes made in the topic of conversation with intimate distance deviating the most from the expected frequency and personal the least.
  • Hypothesis 8. Frequency of short vocal reinforcements (such as "oh, " "really, " "huh") vary with the distance variabIes. A significant difference was found. Intimate and social distance conversants used the most reinforcements and personal the least.

Some general conclusions can be made about the selected aspects of conversations within the three distances. Intimate distance might be observed to be most uncomfortable for subjects. More tension releases, changes in the topic of conversation, and vocal reinforcements existed than in the other distance conversations. The situation was seldom mentioned perhaps indicating avoidance. The most information passed between these subjects suggesting a rapid speaking rate and nervousness.

Social distance also appeared to be less than comfortable for subjects by ranking second in several of the categories. Personal distance had the least vocal reinforcements, topic changes, references to the speaking situation and amount of "giving" and "asking" of information. It is concluded that personal distance is the most appropriate distance for casual conversation between two strangers placed in a situation encouraging verbal interaction.


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