Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

John J. Rearden


The present study was designed to determine whether physical distance between male and female interviewees and a female interviewer affected verbal productivity and anxiety level when interviewees discussed academic, social, and personal topics. The interview was conceptualized as an information-gathering interview. Crucial variables in such interviews are client participation and information flow. Client verbal productivity appears to be directly related to these variables, and was used as one dependent variable to measure the impact of distance on interviewee verbal behavior. A self-report measure of anxiety, the Fear Thermometer was used as a second dependent variable.

The experimental distances used in this investigation were, 2 feet (.6m), 5 feet (1.5m), and 9 feet (2.7m). For purposes of this study, these distances were labeled close, intermediate, and far, respectively. It was hypothesized that an intermediate distance would result in decreased interviewee anxiety and increased verbal productivity when interviewees discussed personal topics.

Results indicated that an intermediate distance did not result in increased verbal productivity, but did result in decreased interviewee anxiety level. Other significant effects were found for Fear Thermometer: (a) female interviewees reported higher anxiety levels than males across all condition, (b) interviewees reported less discomfort in the social-academic-personal topic sequence condition than they did in both the other two topic sequence conditions, (c) interviewees reported higher anxiety levels when discussing personal topics than when discussing academic topics, (d) female interviewees reported higher anxiety levels than males when discussing personal and academic topics. Significant effects for verbal productivity revealed were: (e) male interviewees talked longer than females across all conditions, (f) interviewees talked longer about academic topics than they did about both personal and social topics, and (g) interviewees talked longer as the interview progressed, regardless of topic order. Anxiety as measured by the Fear Thermometer was correlated with verbal productivity, r = -.49.

Discussion includes possible theoretical explanations and limitations of the study, with implications for the initial interview.