Paraproxemic Attributions: Utilization of Information Processing Concepts Across Consumer Behavior Events

ABSTRACT - Based on Hall's (1966) notion of proxemics, people's use of space, this study describes one aspect of the viewer/ television. talent relationship: paraproxemic attributions. Results indicate-that relative image size (differences in camera shots) impacts consumer information processing and impression formation, in particular, perceived credibility.


David M. Klein and Kim Wolfson (1983) ,"Paraproxemic Attributions: Utilization of Information Processing Concepts Across Consumer Behavior Events", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 215-220.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 215-220


David M. Klein, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Kim Wolfson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Based on Hall's (1966) notion of proxemics, people's use of space, this study describes one aspect of the viewer/ television. talent relationship: paraproxemic attributions. Results indicate-that relative image size (differences in camera shots) impacts consumer information processing and impression formation, in particular, perceived credibility.


In recent years marketers and consumer behavior scholars have devoted a great deal of time and resources to investigating the influence of television advertising on consumer behavior. Typically, the force of these investigations has centered around the behavioral consequences or viewing an advertising message.

Research on the impact of television advertising often rails to address important elements underlying the relationship between the consumer and the ad. The first of these elements concerns the interpersonal aspects of the medium/consumer relationship.

Television viewers "don't just passively watch television" but "engage and interact with programs" Ashcroft and Sheflin 1974. p. 12). In describing such media-audience interaction, Horton and Wohl (1959) suggest that there exists a relationship between a mass media source and its audience that closely parallels face-to-face interaction. Interpersonal communication theory allows us to understand this mass media phenomenon: the media talent-viewer relationship or "parasocial interaction." This notion or television as an engaging experience for the viewer contrasts sharply with the concept of TV as a "cool" medium (McLuhan 1967) or a "low-involvement" medium (Krugman 1966; 1969). Parasocial "interaction" with a TV character or actor assumes a different level of audience participation or involvement, and asks questions related to the way in which an audience member symbolically links the media persona to an interpersonal frame.

While Horton and Wohl recognize that media-viewer interaction lacks the reciprocity found in face-to-face communication, these theorists argue that media talent replicate the verbal and nonverbal styles inherent in interpersonal communication.

Related to the interpersonal aspects or the TV-consumer relationship is a second important effect which is often overlooked in examinations or the impact of television advertising: the properties of television's "code". Too often, the visual-technical aspects of TV commercials are ignored in favor of topical variables, and advertising research is of ten oriented toward analysis of content. While content-type analysis often addresses the issues or what particular market segments watch and how viewers react, these studies still, as Hiebert, Ungurait and Bohn (1979) observe, "need to go beyond content when assessing the impact of a medium's code" (p. 112).

Interface of Visual-Technical and Interpersonal Concepts

While "theory" dealing- with the effects of camera manipulation in TV ads upon the consumer integrates the interpersonal communication approach to the analysis of TV consumer relationships with the "code" properties of the television medium, the empirical research related to that area fails to link these related ideas.

The first empirical studies analyzing the effect of the camera shot were based on the conceptual framework developed by Barrow and Westley (1958). The foundation of this theoretical model is that "the efficiency or a communication is improved by the elimination or interference which distracts attention and detracts from the message." (p. ;0). Several subsequent studies have focused on the variable of "image size" as a mediator or information gain for the individual viewer. (WilLiams 1965; Wurtzel & Dominick 1971; McCain & Repensky 1979; McCain and Divers 1973; Wakshlag 1973). The majority of these studies tried to explain B"s influence in terms of a stimulus comprised solely of static long shots or close-up shots, which is atypical of television convention.

Wood (1979) tried to compensate for some of the deficiencies of past research in an experiment investigating the influence or sex of viewer and image size on perceptions of source credibility. Using static camera shots, zoom lensed shots, and three camera shots, Wood taped an eight and one half minute persuasive speech. Females found the message source significantly (p. < .01) more credibly across all conditions on a dimension or "safety" than did male subjects. Wood suggested sexual perceptual differences as the reason for this finding.

The Concept of Paraproxemics

Paraproxemics is a consumer behavior construct which applies an interpersonal communication model to information processing of TV advertising. "Paraproxemic attributions" (Klein 1977) refers to the physical "closeness" a viewer perceives between him/herself and an actor in a TV commercial. Camera shots simulate physical space between TV actor and viewer --e.g., close-ups and extreme close-ups correspond to Hall's (1966) "personal" and "intimate" distances, respectively. This notion relies on Hall's theory of proxemics, which addresses the ways people use space in face-to-face communication. Hall identifies territorial distances between conversants which are associated with attributions regarding the relationship between the interactors.

Hair and Klein (1979) used the concept of paraproxemic attributions to test the effects or relative image size in television commercials. The results of their research suggest that extreme close-up shots may "invade" the territorial space or the viewer. In contrast, the close-up shot permits a more comfortable "distance" between the viewer and the actor in the commercial, resulting in more favorable responses to rho nd

The work of Hair and Klein (1981), together with Hall's theory or proxemics, suggests that people assess others partLy on the basis of spatial cues. Television viewers may judge commercials along a number of different dimensions. Some of the most important assessments the viewer can make are those of expertise, competence, character, or other perceptions of the talent and/or ad which have been traditionally labeled source credibility.

It is clear that consumer behavior research of the technical variables or other structural elements of the TV advertising message is in the embryonic stages of development. We need to find concepts which will account for consumer information processing across situations. The paraproxemics approach allows us to explain processing of advertising messages with the same concepts which explain cognitive attributions in face-to-face sales or other communication settings. Building upon the work of Hair and Klein (1979), we pose the following research question: Does relative image size make a difference in consumers' perceptions of the credibility of a B' advertising message? The present investigation addresses this issue.



Ninety males and ninety females were drawn from the introductory marketing classes at a large Southern University. The nature of this class allowed for a representative cross-section of the university population.

This study used a 9 x 2 matrix, with two independent variables (sex of subject and type of camera shot) and credibility as the dependent measure (a ten-item credibility scale).

The stimulus consisted of a short videotaped message delivered by an adult male.

The tape was of broadcast quality in order to create as realistic a stimulus as possible. Two tapes were made concurrently. The first tape (tape 81) was composed of establishing shots and extreme close-up (XCU) shots. The second tape (tape #2) consisted of establishing shots and close-up (CU) shots. Forty-four males and fort>0-four females were assigned to the XCU treatment condition. Forty-six males and forty-six females were assigned to the CU treatment condition. The two tapes were recorded simultaneously and were identical with respect to the establishing shots. When tape #1 cut to the XCU shot, tape #2 simultaneously cut to the CU shot. This production technique eliminated external bias which could have occurred if the tapes were produced at two different times or shot from different angles with respect to the actor.

Dependent Measures

The selection of the instrument for the dependent measure in this study was based on five criteria: (1) the instrument must be designed for measuring the dimensions of image credibility of mediated mass media sources (Tucker 1971); (2) the instrument must be based on a large sample size (Nunnally 1967); (Kerlinger 1973); (3) if dimensionality of image is utilized, each specific scale must be highly loaded on one of the dimensions with no high loadings on either of the remaining dimensions (Kerlinger 1973; Hair 1979); (4) the reliability of the instrument must be tested; and (5) arguments must be made for the validity of the instrument.

The instrument selected was a credibility instrument developed by McCroskey and Jenson (1975). This scale best met the five selection criteria better than other scales reviewed in the literature. Criterion (i) was met because McCroskey and Jenson employed sources from mass media such as radio, television, and newspapers. Criterion (2) was met since their instrument was based on three samples with a combined sample of 1,370 subjects. Criterion (3) was met because of the relative "purity" of the factor loadings. Specifically, McCroskey and Jenson accepted only items which had a factor loadings of .60 or above on the chosen factor, and no loading .40 or above on any other factors (Kerlinger 1973). Criterion (4) was met, as internal reliability estimates for the instrument were reported as exceeding .90 for each of the dimensions of credibility. Internal and external validity were determined in order to satisfy to the final criterion.

McCroskey and Jenson's final instrument consisted of 25 semantic differential scales tapping five dimensions of credibility: Competence, Character, Sociability, Composure, and Extroversion. This instrument was shortened from the original 25 items to ten. The ten scale item chosen were the two most highly loaded items within each of the five dimensions.- Specifically, these items were: qualified/unqualified, reliable/unreliable, kind/cruel, sympathetic/unsympathetic, friendly/unfriendly, cheerful/gloomy, composed/excitable, calm/anxious, bold/ timid, aggressive/meek. Because of McCroskey and Jenson's discussion of validity, the baseline nature of research of mediated television variables, paraproxemic attributions, and the fact that the instrument had been shortened to ten items, the present study was used to determine the validity and reliability of the revised instrument.

Analysis of the Measuring Instrument

Analysis of the instrument began with the categorization of the data by image factor analysis. This statistical procedure is a subcategory of common factor analysis. It differs from common factor analysis in that specific linear equations are established to define the common variance. This is achieved through the definition of the common variance of each variable into a "regression of that variable on all other variables. These regression estimates become a matrix of 'images,' and the unique or residual parts of the data are known as the anti-images, E" (Acito and Anderson 1980, p. 230).

Results of the image factor analysis of the overall sample can be seen in Table 1. The five dimensions of credibility identified by McCroskey and Jenson also emerged in the present study: Character, Composure, Extroversion, Competence, and Sociability. Together, these factors explained 84% of the total variance in the data. The only divergence from past research results occurred in the Character factor, where perceptions of friendliness clustered with kindness and sympathy items. McCroskey and Jenson found friendliness to load higher no the Sociability factor.

The two most important dimensions, accounting for 56% of the variation, were Character and Composure. The Cronbach's alpha obtained for the shortened scale was .72, which Nunnally (1967) describes as a satisfactory result in the early stages of scale development. The results of the overall factor analysis seem to parallel the findings of McCroskey and Jenson, with respect to the dimensions of source credibility.



Separate factor analyses were run for female and male subsamples. Table 2 shows the factor structure for the 90 female respondents. Emerging from this analysis were six factors of credibility, which explained 90% of the variance in responses. However, two of these were one-item factors--leaving essentially a four-factor structure. In Table 3 the factors resulting from data on male subjects is shown. Males' responses indicated a five-factor structure which accounted for 88: of the variation. Since one factor consisted of a single item, the solution actually involved only four factors of any substance

The main differences between female and male factor structures can be found in the location of the scale items kind, friendly, and sympathetic and in the relative importance of the various factors. Females seemed -to view the TV talent similarly with respect to kindness and friendliness, but treated sympathy as a separate dimension. Males responded similarly to the kind, friendly. and sympathetic scale items.

Both sample subsets showed semantic pairs (e.g., kind-cruel) loading on factors in a fashion similar to those of the overall sample and to McCroskey and Jenson's results. The only exception was the female data for the Character dimension or credibility. All in all, the results of the present study, when compared with previous research findings, suggest the validity of the shortened scale as a measure of source credibility for TV talent.





A summary of the analyses of the instrument shows a high level of explained variance achieved by the factor solution for the whole sample. The increase in variance explained when the instrument was further divided by the sex or the respondents offers support for the instrument's reliability and validity.


Ss were randomly assigned to one of two treatment conditions at the time of their selection. These conditions represented the XCU and CU conditions. Random assignment to conditions was determined by the roll of a die: even number, extreme close-up condition; odd number on the die, close-up treatment. Five to six Ss were administered the treatment at a time. To simulate the television viewing situation as closely as possible, a small room was set up with a couch and comfortable armchairs. A television monitor was placed across the room from the chairs. Upon entering the testing room, subjects were asked to sic down and make themselves comfortable. They were told that the experimenter was a graduate student working on a research grant for m university professor. This cover story allowed the experimenter to run the treatment while processing ignorance of the true nature or the research. Subjects were then shown the stimuli for the condition to which they assigned.

Following the viewing of the videotaped material, subjects completed questionnaires containing the credibility scale and demographic questions described earlier.

Subjects in experimental group 81 were shown tape #1 (the XCU condition) and Ss in experimental condition 22 were shown tape #9 (CU condition).


Multiple Analysis of Covariance

An analysis of covariance approach was used in the investigation of the source credibility attributions made by the subjects. Since the factor patterns emerging from the analysis were identifiable, agreed with past research findings, and accounted for a large proportion of the total variability in the data, factor scores representing each of the five factors obtained in the overall analysis were developed and used as the dependent measures. A multivariate analysis of covariance was applied using the treatment conditions of speaker proximity (XCU or CU shot) and the sex of the dent as independent variables. The age of the respondent and the reported number of hours spent per week viewing television were introduced as covariates to obtain a clearer picture of the independent variables' effects. Separate factor score sets were generated from the factor analyses of the female and male sample subsets. A multivariate analysis of covariance was run for each of these subsets. The results of these analyses are presented in Table 4. Significance is indicated for p values falling below the chosen alpha level of .10.

The multivariate F ratio indicates a significant main effect for proximity of the TV talent on subject's responses on the source credibility scale. The relative "distance" (extreme close-up or close-up camera shot) between the talent and the audience influenced subjects' attributions of friendliness, cheerfulness, aggressiveness, etc. In addition, there was a significant main effect for sex of respondents. Apparently females and males reacted differently to experimental treatments. A significant interaction effect was round as well as an interaction between proximity and sex. This indicates that some significant results can be traced to particular combinations of the independent variabLes, proximity and sex.

In terms of the separate analyses for female and male samples, results for females show two significant findings, while male data reveals non-significance for all variables. The proximity main effect and influence of" hours (one of the covariates) were both significant for women; for men, proximity, hours watching TV, and age were nonsignificantly related to credibility.



Table 5 displays the mean scores across all source credibility items by sex and proximity. Females rated the talent as more credible when the relative distance was shorter than when the distance was greater. Males perceived the talent as more credible in the extreme close-up condition, also, but to a lesser (and nonsignificant) degree, when compared with females.



A closer inspection of the influence of speaker proximity and respondent sex on each of the factors of credibility (from the image factor analysis) reveals some intriguing patterns. The Character dimension, consisting of the items kind, sympathetic, and friendly, showed no relationship with either talent proximity or respondent sex. Data for the scale items of composed and calm in the dimension Composure indicate that females viewed the media talent as more composed as proximity decreased, while males saw the talent as less composed when proximity decreased. The male talent was seen by females as more bold, aggressive, qualified, and reliable as the relative distance between the actor and the audience became smaller. The final dimension of Sociability provided some reversals of the developing pattern. Females saw the actor as less sociable (more gloomy) as proximity increased, while males perceived the talent as more cheerful when viewed at a closer distance. A note of caution should be introduced here, since the Sociability dimension consisted of only one scale item, which does not allow much confidence in the reliability of the responses. Overall, for females, the perceived decrease in proximity was related to higher ratings for items, excitable, bold, aggressive, qualified, and reliable. Males perceived the closer actor as less excitable. more anxious. and more cheerful.


Proxemic theory is concerned with the way in which people organize their perceptions of a situation based upon the spatial relationships established between themselves and some "other." Paraproxemic attributions deal with the manner in which individuals organize their perceptions of television advertising based on spatial "cues." The concept of paraproxemic attributions was shown here to be of benefit in studying consumer reaction to TV advertising.

Audience judgments of credibility of a male TV talent were influenced by the relative proximity of the actor, as operationalized by Hall's interpersonal distance paradigm. The interface between interpersonal communication constructs (i.e., the use of spacial relations to manage impressions) and advertising communication also appears to be influenced by cultural norms; specifically, sexual roles played a part in subjects' responses on the source credibility scales. The interactions between sex and proximity suggest that females react differently to decreases Ind/or increases in talent proximity than do males. That is, males perceived the credibility of the TV actor to be the same, regardless of distance, while female subjects increased their positive attributions of source credibility as the actor appeared closer.

In his pioneering work on proxemics, Hall addressed the notion of a spatial dimension of man not only in interpersonal relations but also in art, literature, architecture, and language. To Hall, man identifies the same perceptual cues to discern "sensations of space" whether the object of that consideration is animate or inanimate. The cues and responses therein are primarily culturally bound. Consequently, the differences found in the factor structures of the male and female respondents may reflect the cultural distinctions made in attributions to a male source, in this case the talent in the stimulus.

The paraproxemic perspective serves to explain the lack or a proxemic effect in the male subjects' responses. Specifically, the male ca Lent may have invaded the male subjects' personal space by appearing too close. As was discussed earlier, the extreme close-up shot simulates the "intimate" distance level in Hall's theory. This corresponds to a distance of approximately six to sixteen inches, a distance much too close for comfort in the American culture for male-co-male relations. Consequently, the males have not had the opportunity to develop a response repertoire for situations with other males at an intimate distance. This speculation provides for the lack of a proxemic effect for the source credibility scales. Female subjects however, exhibited differences in attributions of source credibility due to the relative distance of the male talent. A priori reasoning suggests that such a result was found because women are culturally more conditioned to men (especially televised males) "violating" their intimate space and consequently have had the opportunity to develop socially acceptable responses to the situation.

Additionally, it is important to address the Fact that the manipulated aspect of the mediated communication in this study represented the most minute part of the mediated televised whole. Other camera shots need to be studied in consideration with each other in the development of the shot sequence. Additional technical variables such as lighting, editing, background and camera movement already being studied need to be developed as system. Also, investigation is needed on the differences in consumer response to female as well as male T\' actors with regard to these variables.

Implications for Consumer Behavior

Consumer behavior researchers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in predicting the effects of advertising via scientific methods. The findings from this study point to a neglected aspect of TV advertising - the technical elements w a commercial message.

This report indicates the impact of relative image size in television commercials. Differential ratings of credibility by male and female subjects suggest the-need to consider sex of viewers as well.

The concept of paraproxemics, which guided this study, is clearly a heuristic one. It provides researchers with a single construct for explaining consumer information processing in a variety of contexts. Paraproxemics, and other "parasocial" constructs allow us to understand information processing in situations ranging from a sales clerk-customer interaction to a TV actor-viewer communication.

This suggests the utility of parasocial theory for marketing segmentation and the pragmatic value or parasocial information processing models for predicting the influence of advertising stimuli on consumers.


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David M. Klein, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Kim Wolfson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10 | 1983

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