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It is contended that space can act as a metaphor for social relationships. The thesis draws on schema theory from cognitive psychology to explain how the affective qualities of social stimuli serve to bias the 'cognitive maps' of individuals. Supporting evidence is cited from the fields of cognitive, social, environmental and neuro-psychology. The metaphor is tested experimentally from a micro-spatial level (e. g. spatial locations of characters in a photograph) up to a macro-spatial level (spatial locations of towns). The affective valence of the stimuli used were either a priori based (e. g. homes of people already known to the subject, perceived religious predominance of towns in a sectarian setting) or influenced by the experimenter (e. g. captions purporting to inform representations of social scenes in photographs derived from newspapers and magazines). Distortion of perceived distances (between subject and stimuli and between stimuli) form the dependent variable in each experiment. Results in all experiments indicated a strong tendency for the valence of stimuli to bias people in their distance estimations. Relative overestimation of distance was observed for stimuli perceived to be negatively valenced and the reverse for those stimuli perceived to be positively valenced. In a final experiment, distance estimations were examined between a variety of human figures photographed in 'real-world' social encounters. The results were in line with Social Identity Theory, with overestimation observed between groups and underestimation within groups. Results throughout are interpreted in relation to the 'socio-spatial schema' metaphor.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy