Honors Theses


Benjamin Kunz, Ph.D.



Publication Date


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Honors Thesis


This study examined the potential impact of threat perception on judgments of interpersonal distance. A growing body of research suggests that the perception of space and objects within space can be impacted by non-visual factors. For instance, research illustrates a connection between threat perception and spatial judgments, in that objects that pose a danger are seen as being closer or farther than they really are. Stereotypes, which are generalized beliefs about a group, can result in threat perception, which, by extension, means that stereotypes could impact the perception of interpersonal distance. The perceived distance between oneself and another object or person can be measured using different methods, such as verbally calling out an estimate of distance or walking an estimated distance to a target without visual feedback. The present study employed virtual reality technology to assess whether participants misperceived the distances between themselves and virtual targets as a function of whether the targets appeared threatening or benign. Our results found a significant impact of target appearance on the perception of distance. This was characterized by the more threatening target being perceived as further away than the benign target. These results are reviewed in the context of previous research exploring the influence of threat on spatial judgments. This study lays the groundwork for future studies that will investigate the impacts of group membership on the perception of threat and interpersonal distance.

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Undergraduate research