The effect of differentially perceived aggressive dog breeds on proxemic distance during human intended interpersonal interactions



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Spatial behavior is a fundamental aspect during social interactions, such that one must be able to interpret social signals that convey information and respond appropriately to interactants. Interpersonal space is considered a flexible, portable area surrounding the body that is consistently maintained during social interactions. Incursions into this space will often induce feelings of discomfort and produce reactionary behavioral responses. Several factors have been shown to influence decisions of interpersonal distance preferences, such as demographic variables, situational contexts, and environmental settings. However, research has yet to determine the associative effects companion animals may have on social information processing during intended interactions. Previous work has identified several breeds of dogs perceived as higher or lower in aggressiveness and people’s predictions for intended interactions with them (Briones et al., in press). To extend the previous work, the current study used computer-simulated avatar interactions to assess the influence of these dog breeds on proxemic behavior during goal-related social interactions. Moreover, factors related to dyadic familiarity, perspective-taking, gender differences, canine affinity and experience were considered. Interpersonal distance measures were used as a proxy for nonverbal behavior to represent attitudinal bias toward humans associated with breeds perceived as aggressive. The majority of the hypotheses were supported: (a) interactants that were associated with dog breeds that were perceived higher in aggressiveness elicited larger interpersonal spaces when interacting with others, compared to dog breeds perceived lower in aggressiveness; (b) dyad familiarity plays a substantial role in distancing decisions, in that individuals will maintain closer interpersonal distances with friends than strangers; (c) dog handlers taking the perspective of the approaching interactant results in greater interpersonal distances; and (d) greater affinity for dogs, in general, was related to closer proxemic distances during interpersonal interactions. The implications of these findings, limitations of the study, and future directions are discussed. Dogs are an integral part of many people’s lives. With the increase of companion animals in service, therapy, and as emotional support companions, findings from this study contribute to our understanding of how dogs influence human social interactions.

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Human-Animal Interaction, Interpersonal Interaction, Proxemics