Using the State Need for Affiliation to Predict Perceptions of Touch as a Personal Space Interaction or Invasion

Open Access
Zawadzki, Matthew Jason
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
January 21, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Stephanie A Shields, Thesis Advisor
  • need to affiliate
  • personal space
  • touch
The current study sought to clear up some of the inherent ambiguity of touch’s meaning by examining the extent to which a person’s state need for affiliation (SN-Aff) explains differences in perceptions of a touch. Humans have competing needs for affiliation (n-Aff) and personal space (Burgooon, 1978) and people use personal space and the n-Aff to navigate and moderate social interactions (Altman 1975, 1993). I propose that because touch constrains personal space, response to touch depends upon the touched person’s SN-Aff. In a high-impact behavioral study, a confederate touched, leaned close to or got the attention of a participant (n=262) after the participant’s SN-Aff was measured. A series of self-report and behavioral dependent variables assessed the effect of the touch, lean or shuffle. I predicted that the higher a participant’s SN-Aff the more positively they would interpret the interface, and more positive reactions would follow as a result; the lower a participant’s SN-Aff the more negatively they would interpret the interface, and more negative reactions would follow as a result. The pattern of results supported the predictions for the self-report variables, such that a participant’s SN-Aff influenced the participants’ ratings of the valence of the interface. Ratings of the interface in turn affected ratings of the confederate’s personality, reported desires to interact with the confederate in the short- and long-term, and desire to escape the situation, and reported mood. Results suggest that while the physical act of a touch may be ambiguous, understanding a person’s SN-Aff needs may predict a person’s reactions to that ambiguous touch.