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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Spatiality in small group interaction Sela, Abraham


The social sciences have usually treated the physical environment in group interaction as a given, rather than as an influential factor on human behaviour. Recently, sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, architects and geographers have come to view the importance of the inter-relationship between man and his environment. This change of orientation, however, has begun to produce an overemphasis on the impact of the environment with a consequent neglect on the behavioural use: of the environment. A comprehensive ecological orientation must stress linkages in both directions - man's use of and affect on the environment and the effect and impact of the environment on man's behaviour. Although this thesis is not an empirical study, it does attempt, by a review of the literature available in this field, to show that man does not merely respond or adapt to his surroundings but constructs and modifies the environment in his interpersonal exchanges with others. The aim of this thesis is to underscore the fact that man's active use of the physical environment is a part of his non-verbal behaviour. This proposition is based on the demonstrable assumption that the spatial and physical properties of the environment are part and parcel of ongoing social interaction. The specific intent of the thesis is to integrate the research on spatial arrangement in small groups, to suggest some possible directions for further research in this field, and to note some potentially useful applications of the present findings. The thesis focuses on three major questions: 1) How man structures microspace; 2) How he relates physically to persons with whom he is interacting; 3) What is communicated by different spatial arrangements. The studies reviewed, though differing widely in approach and methodology, all denote the importance of spatiality in social interaction. Taken together, they reveal the conjoint functions of culture, personality, task, and environment in accounting for spatial arrangements in small groups. The arrangement of the thesis develops its focus from the most primary level, the individual, to the processes of interaction in small groups concerning spatial arrangement, spatial adjustment and interpersonal impact, to the level of the hierarchical organization of a group. The validity of the researchers' hypotheses is examined by brief evaluations of the methodologies of the various studies reported, leading to more general commentary about the state of research in this field. The body of the thesis contains four chapters which link the issue of spatiality to major themes in group interaction: emotional climate and attitude, nature of task, communication patterns, and leadership. The final section of each chapter points out some possible avenues of research and application, and a concluding chapter puts the issues of spatiality, nonverbal behaviour, and group interaction in integrated perspective.

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