Dominance-submissiveness is a feeling state that can be assessed from verbal reports using the semantic differential method. This dimension is the inverse of the judged potency of the environment, as measured by the semantic differential. Behaviorally, dominance is measured in terms of postural relaxation (i.e., body lean and asymmetrical positioning of the limbs) and is independent of pleasure and arousal. Analogous concepts have been used by some investigators to describe the effects of environments. Spivack (1969) described different aspects of hospital environments in terms of the degree to which they restricted variability in patients’ behaviors. Proshansky, Ittelson, and Rivlin (1970) proposed “freedom
of choice” as one dimension to describe hospital environments and related it to more familiar concepts such as privacy, territoriality, and crowding. Privacy and territoriality permit greater freedom of choice, whereas crowding can limit freedom.
Proshansky, Ittelson, and Rivlin (1970) suggested that crowding need not necessarily have negative connotations-when it limits freedom it is negative, but when it does not limit freedom or even enhances a freer feeling, e.g., as in instances of deindividuation discussed by Festinger, Pepitone, and Newcomb(1952), then it is preferred.
An individual’s feeling of dominance in a situation is based on the extent to which he feels unrestricted or free to act in a variety of ways. This feeling can be hampered by settings which limit the forms of behavior and enhanced by settings which facilitate a greater variety of behaviors. For instance, an individual has greater freedom, and therefore a feeling of dominance, in his own territory (e.g., listening to music at home relative to doing so in a concert hall; or reading the same book in his office rather than in a library). A kitchen or an office that is well stocked with a variety of tools facilitates more behaviors (and enhances a feeling of dominance) than one which is sparsely equipped. Flexible interior decorations, such as movable room partitions, adjustable levels of lighting, or movable furniture allow many arrangements suited to a greater variety of activities. Thus, relative to others which are fixed and difficult to change, such flexible arrangements are conducive to a feeling of dominance.
Physical stimuli which are rated as more intense, more ordered and powerful on the semantic differential are associated with a submissive feeling for the person encountering them. For instance, an intense and/or large stimulus can constrain behavior by masking the contribution of other stimuli which might
elicit other behaviors.
For social environments, once again the dominance of the participant can be described in terms of familiar concepts. Formal social situations constrain behavior more than informal ones. Thus, ceremonial occasions in which implicit homage is paid to a higher or more potent idea or entity (e.g., a religious meeting) are typically associated with well-defined forms of behavior which are judged acceptable and distinguished from other unacceptable ones. For instance, a person has less freedom of choice (is less dominant) in the presence of others of higher status. Note the difference in the extent of behavioral freedom of a patient compared to that of a physician on a hospital ward. This is consistent with the more general idea that there is an inverse relationship between a dominant feeling and the potency of the environment.
This dimension of emotional response to environments has received little attention from investigators. There is a lack of data on how the physical aspects of a situation determine the feeling of dominance or on how dominance influences other behaviors. For this reason the above comments are offered tentatively at this point and are only suggested by evidence from the semantic differential.
Mehrabian & Russell (1974)