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Running head: COMFORT WITH PHYSICAL PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION
Comfort with Physical Public Displays of Affection
Mari L. Baquir
El Camino Community College
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This study hopes to show that participating (PT) versus observing (OB) a range of physical
public displays of affection (PDA) between a heterosexual couple will change comfort levels.
Gender, age, and ethnicity will also be considered as predictor variables. Data will be collected
through approximately 150 self-reported surveys. Pearson correlation coefficients and t-tests will
be used to test the hypotheses. The result of the statistical outcomes will be shown at the end.
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Comfort with Physical Public Displays of Affection
Public displays of affection (PDA) between couples are common occurrences nowadays.
However, comfort levels of people either watching or participating in the PDA differ for several
reasons. One of the possible reasons could be person’s attachment style. The attachment theory is
“the tendency to seek closeness to another person and feel secure when that person is present”
(Wikipedia, 2006). Using this theory, data has been collected and shows that “adults with
different working models of attachment are predisposed to think, feel, and behave differently in
their relationships” (Collins, 1996).
There is one secure attachment style and three insecure styles: resistant or ambivalent,
avoidant, and disorganized attachment (Kochanska, 2001). In two studies, it was found that
“those who are secure enjoy close relationships and are comfortable with intimacy” (“Study
Finds,” 1997) and “secure and ambivalent people… felt better interacting” (Mikulincer & Nachshon,
1991). Depending on the attachment styles of each person in the relationship, their probability of
engaging in PDA will vary; in fact, “attachment styles partly predict the way in which a person
feels, thinks, and behaves in their romantic relationships” (Monteoliva, Garcia-Martinez, &
Miguel). Also, “studies have shown that certain attachment styles are correlated with the
wellness of how the relationship functions, specifically the intimacy between the couple”
(Monteoliva et al. 2005, p. 746). This statement supports the evidence that attachment has an
influence on PDA. More explicitly, secure attachment has a positive correlation with intimacy
while the insecure attachment styles were negatively correlated (Monteoliva et al. 2005, p. 745).
Simpson’s 1990 study highlights the strong relationship between attachment styles and
comfort participating in PDA very clearly in its results:
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Avoidantly attached people indicate that they are uncomfortable being close to others,
find it difficult to completely trust and depend on others, and are nervous when anyone
gets too close. Anxiously attached people indicate that they find others are reluctant to
get as close as they would like… (p. 971)
However, a different study revealed that attachment styles only predict emotional
responses, even though they agreed that people with various attachment styles generally
followed that attachment style’s model of behavior, feeling, and thought in a relationship.
Shyness could also be a determining factor in people’s comfort with participating in
PDA. Bashful people are more likely to “use strategies aimed at avoiding social interaction”
(Beer, 2002) while non-bashful people are more likely to view “social situations as a learning
opportunity and to approach social settings” (Beer, 2002). A different study supports this as well,
saying that “shy individuals may become enmeshed in a cycle of withdrawal and inhibition in
social situations” (Johnson, Petzel, & Johnson, 1991). Based on the results of these two studies,
it is probable that shy people would not engage in overt affectionate displays, more so if they
were in a public location. Adding to this is the fact that there is a higher prevalence of social
phobia in shy people, about 18% (Heiser, Turner, & Beidel, 2003).
In this present study, comfort with various types of physical PDA will be measured
through a self-reported survey. More specifically, the physical PDA under consideration will be
that of a heterosexual couple. It is hypothesized that comfort levels will change depending on
whether the respondent is viewing themselves as either a participant (PT) or observer (OB) of the
PDA, with the PT comfort level being higher. Gender, age, and ethnicity will also be taken into
consideration as predictor variables. It is hypothesized that females will be more comfortable
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than males as both a PT and OB; younger respondents will be more comfortable with both PT
and OB; and certain ethnicities will have higher PT and OB comfort levels than other ethnicities.
A total of approximately 150 students from five El Camino College psychology and
sociology classes will be included in this survey. Each class will consist of both male and female
students. All students will be volunteers in the study.
The materials will be one survey about physical public displays of affection (see Table 1)
and one large box with a slit at the top for the submission of the surveys.
The participants will be briefly introduced to the topic of research and given instructions.
The experimenter will read the following paragraph to the participants prior to their involvement.
“Hi, I’m Mari Baquir from Dr. Mascolo’s research methods class. I’m conducting a
survey on physical public displays of affection. I’ll be handing out this survey to your class. At
the top of the survey will be a few general questions, like age and sex. Below that is a list of
public displays of affection. Please mark with an X how comfortable you are participating in the
public displays of affection. At the bottom, you’ll be asked to do the survey again, except to
mark with an O how comfortable you are watching the same public displays of affection. These
surveys will be anonymous, so they cannot be traced to you. At the end, please fold the paper
twice and put it in the box, thank you.”
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After the surveys have been submitted, the experimenter will take the box and empty it at
a private location. The data of the respondents will be divided into genders, age groups, and
ethnicities. This data will be inputted into a computer where statistical conclusions about the
hypotheses can be made. Each level of comfort will be given a numerical value of 4-0, 4 being
very comfortable and 0 being very uncomfortable. The score for each participant will be totaled
and averaged. These scores will be used as the response variable for the predictor variables. The
surveys will be kept in a folder for referencing.
The interaction between gender and PT and OB, and the interaction between age and PT
and OB will both be measured using Pearson’s correlation coefficient. Interaction between
ethnicity and PT and OB will also be calculated with Pearson’s r. The respondent’s difference in
average comfort level when perceiving themselves as either a PT or OB will be calculated using
Discussion will be inserted after analysis.
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Beer, J. S., (2002). Implicit self-theories of shyness. Journal of Personality & Social
Psychology, 83(4), 1009-1024. Abstract retrieved March 29, 2006, from EBSCOhost database.
Collins, N. L. (1996). Working models of attachment: implications for explanation,
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Heiser, N. A., Turner, S. M., & Beidel, D. C., (2003). Shyness: relationship to social
phobia and other psychiatric disorders. Behaviour Research & Theraphy, 41(2), 209-222.
Abstract retrieved March 29, 2006, from EBSCOhost database.
Johnson J. M., Petzel T. P., & Johnson J. E., (1991). Attributions of shy persons in
affiliation and achievement situations. Journal of Psychology, 125(1), 51-59. Retrieved March
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Kochanska, G. (2001). Emotional development in children with different attachment
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Mikulincer, M., & Nachshon, O., (1991). Attachment styles and patterns of self-
disclosure. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 61(2), 321-331. Abstract retrieved
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Monteoliva, A., Garcia-Martinez, J., & Miguel, A (2005). Adult attachment style and its
effect on the quality of romantic relationships in Spanish students. The Journal of Social
Psychology, 145(6), 745-747. Retrieved March 28, 2006, from the Wilson OmniFile database.
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