Journal of Interpretation Research
Volume 23, Number 2
The Impact of Appropriate Interpersonal Touch (AIT) via Handshake on Perceived Credibility of Interpreter and Message
Mickey Shortt, Jr., M.S.
64 Needles Eye Road
Lamoine, ME 04605
Shelby Gull Laird, Ph.D.
Stephen F. Austin State University
Nacogdoches, TX 75962
Ray Darville, Ph.D.
Stephen F. Austin State University
Nacogdoches, TX 75962
Pat Stephens Williams, Ph.D.
Stephen F. Austin State University
Nacogdoches, TX 75962
The role of interpersonal touch has been studied in communication fields, demonstrating a handshake or other form of appropriate interpersonal touch (AIT) has rendered favorable results in rapport building with an audience as well as developing audience comfort and receptivity to messaging. This study aimed to determine if the use of a handshake prior to interpretive programming would increase the positivity of perception of a visitor toward interpreters and/or the message shared by interpreters. Four interpreters gave both control and test interpretive programs, with 404 participants completing surveys at the site for a period of about one month. The interpreters were then asked to reflect on their practice at the end of the study. The research also discusses viewpoints of professionals in the field of interpretation about the current use and perception of touch. Through three angles, the research demonstrated that AIT positively affects a visitor’s perception of the interpreter and the message shared. The research also highlights and discusses boundaries in the use of touch and next steps toward researching AIT’s role in the field of interpretation.
audience, immediacy behaviors, handshake, interpersonal touch, credibility, rapport
Park management and frontline interpreters work toward the same goal—to create opportunities for visitors to connect to the natural and/or cultural resources of their site. Resource interpretation, whether personal or non-personal, seeks to “forge emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource” (Brochu & Merriman, 2007, p. 27). From a park management perspective, it is the interpreter’s role to provide a deeper visitor experience and encourage visitors to care for park resources (Lacome, 2007).
For a frontline interpreter, whether working with personal or non-personal interpretive products, communicating the significance and relevance of resources allows visitors to develop a personal connection with the resources and support the mission of the organization or agency (Ham, 2013). In a constantly changing society, interpreters need to continually self assess and improve through use of the best current techniques to reach the audience and search for additional skills and techniques to improve. As a part of this effort to improve the level of impact on an audience one possible technique may be to introduce touch into a program. Regardless of some of the social implications of personal space, research in several fields of study has shown the benefits of physical touch on establishing rapport and receptivity to messaging (Bundgaard & Nielsen, 2011; Fisher, 1976; Routasalo, 1999; Wycoff & Holley, 1990).
Researchers sensed that the intentional use of appropriate interpersonal touch (AIT) would provide a means of increasing credibility, encouraging receptivity to messaging, and generally increasing the effectiveness of interpretive programming. AIT may include a handshake, shoulder pat, high five, fist bump, or other form of physical touch that is appropriate for the interpreter and audience. Strengthening the impact of and receptivity to interpretive programming may allow sites of natural and historic importance to be better understood and protected.
The use of AIT in the field of interpretation has not been studied; this study was designed to discover the possible benefits of AIT within the field of interpretation. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of AIT on a visitor’s perception of the interpreter and the message shared by the interpreter. Through this study, researchers hoped to establish an understanding of if and how AIT could be used effectively in the field of interpretation. The research considered boundaries and best practices while providing an understanding of the current use and perceived future of interpersonal touch in the field.
Interpretation is a multifaceted communication process including a host of factors that determine the effectiveness and receptivity of a program (Stern & Powell, 2013). These include the knowledge of the interpreter, knowledge of the audience, and effective techniques and methods (Lacome, 2002). Other, less obvious factors are also involved: perception of the interpreter, timing of the program, organization, and audibility among others (Stern & Powell, 2013). Of particular interest to this research is interpreter credibility, especially when interpreting controversial topics. In Stern and Powell’s study (2013) they examined the effectiveness of interpreters in national park programming with one of the areas being the identity of the interpreter. The visitor’s perception of the interpreter, referred to in their study as the “primary identity,” can range from “friend” to “authority” figure to “walking encyclopedia.” When the interpreter took on the “friend” identity, the program had higher satisfaction scores than those where the interpreter was considered an “authority” or “walking encyclopedia.” This could be interpreted as a trust factor, where the audience was more accepting of the message conveyed by a “friend.”
Appropriate Interpersonal Touch
One area yet to be studied concerning the techniques of interpretation was the role of appropriate interpersonal touch (AIT) on the visitor’s perception of the interpreter. For the purposes of this study, AIT is defined as touch that visitors can be comfortable receiving and that interpreters can be comfortable giving. Wood (1997) shows that a handshake or shoulder pat is accepted commonly as appropriate in teacher and student relationships. Research by Suvilehto, Glerean, Dunbar, Hari, and Nummenmaa (2015) indicated that people are comfortable with strangers touching their hand. Gallace (2010) found there were positive effects of physical touch in multiple areas. Specifically, interpersonal touch has been shown to communicate immediacy more quickly than language (Jones & Yarbrough, 1985). Because developing rapport and establishing credibility are imperative for the success of an interpretive program (Stern & Powell, 2013), physical touch may be a way to establish rapport and credibility and convey immediacy to park visitors.
Physical touch has been shown to engender positive responses in others. A study conducted with librarians showed that students touched appropriately had greater positive feelings about the library than those not touched (Fisher, 1976). Interestingly, these positive feelings were established even though none of the students recalled being touched by the librarian. A similar study had flight attendants “accidentally” touch passengers on the shoulder or forearm during long-distance flights. Passengers completed an evaluation, and the results showed that the passengers who were touched rated the flight attendants more qualified and professional. Furthermore, the passengers that were touched felt safer than those who were not touched (Wycoff & Holley, 2010). Nurses who held the hands of their patients were perceived as more caring, with touch helping to build confidence and demonstrate readiness to help their patients (Bundgaard & Nielsen, 2011). With this research in mind, AIT may be another tool in the hands of interpreters to build constituency and open minds toward the importance of the park resources and site. In fact, one anthropologist has contended that “touch is ten times stronger than verbal or emotional contact” (Ackerman, 1990, p. 77).
Boundaries in Touch
The use of touch as a technique cannot be considered without the discussion of the limitations in touch in establishing what is appropriate and acceptable within the field. In fact, due to the concern of litigation, touch has been actively discouraged in many fields (Field, 2001). Jourard’s (1966) research on the role of touch in different cultures has shown that touch is accepted widely and ingrained in some cultures and not utilized in others. In his research, couples in France and Puerto Rico touched one another over 100 times in a café setting while people in England and the United States used touch sparingly if at all in the same amount of time. Chapman (2012) recently authored a book exploring how to show appreciation to employees in the workplace and was faced with the decision of whether to include physical touch as an expression of appreciation to employees. The current climate concerning touch limits acceptance of this form of communication. He decided, despite the concerns and boundary issues that existed, to include physical touch because it was such a powerful and necessary communication. With the inclusion, however, he communicated the boundaries necessary to establish the use of touch as a credible and safe form of communication. In his book, he included the use of a high five, hand shake, and pat on the back as safe forms of physical touch (Chapman, 2012). Additionally, research has indicated that the perception of touch (negative or positive) depends on the area of the body that is touched and the age, gender, and relationship of the person who receives the touch (Gallace, 2010). For example, a touch on the face may be perceived as inappropriate for a coworker, but a handshake can be acceptable in the same setting. To ensure that there are appropriate, clear boundaries in place, this research is focused on appropriate interpersonal touch (AIT) in the form of a handshake or shoulder pat. These two forms of touch are generally accepted across cultures and genders as reasonable and appropriate (Wood, 1997). Handshakes in particular are culturally expected in many western cultural traditions, and are not considered awkward between genders. Suvilehto et al. (2015) have further shown that even a stranger’s touch on the hands is acceptable to most people.
The field of interpretation is a field ready to use physical touch for relationship-building and interpreter perception-shaping. Other fields have shown positive results when this form of communication was employed. Routasalo (1999) found that physical touch increased the positive affect toward the one touching. Customers touched by a car salesman rated the seller more positively than those who were not touched (Erceau & Guéguen, 2007). In a related field, an educator taught students to take their pulse. Some students were physically shown how to take their pulse which resulted in a touch by the professor. Students who were touched consistently rated their professor higher in terms of friendliness, teaching skill, and attitude. Though this was not a long-term study, the authors concluded that physical touch could build relationships between the teacher and student and help facilitate student learning (Legg & Wilson, 2012). This relationship-building tool has great implications and potential for the field of interpretation where the audience perception of the interpreter can impact the effectiveness of the program (Stern & Powell, 2013).
Examining the impact of AIT in interpretation has two natural existing platforms. Interpretation is a meaning-making process (Ham, 2002). During this process, interpreters must first ensure physiological needs (physical comfort) are in place; then safety and security must be in place (Maslow, 1962). With these in place, Maslow observed that relationship building and belonging is an additional layer to pass through before visitors are able to move toward self-actualization, or meaning-making. This relationship-building or rapport establishment typically occurs just before a program starts or in the first portion of a program when an audience is discerning how to perceive the interpreter. The time period can be critical. Immediacy behaviors break communication boundaries (Mehrabian, 1968). Eye contact, physical touch, and smiling are examples of immediacy behaviors (Myers, Zhong, & Guan, 1998). So, giving a handshake or pat on the back to communicate acceptance and inclusion within the group early in the interpretive program may be an effective means of establishing security and building rapport that allow visitors to move to meaning-making. Ward and Wilkinson (2006) have assumed that general likeability may impact the outcome of a program. Other studies have suggested that audiences are more open with their instructor when immediacy behaviors are introduced (Finn, Schrodt, Witt, Elledge, Jernberg, & Larson, 2009). This is of particular interest with the growing trend in interpretation toward facilitated dialogue. This audience-centered program dynamic establishes the interpreter as a facilitator of a conversation rather than the one-to-many lecture style that has been employed in interpretation for years (National Park Service [NPS], 2014a).
The first step in this process of facilitating dialogue is to build community—a step in the process that allows visitors to feel secure enough to share their ideas. This must be established prior to visitors opening up to the rest of the group during a program. This is especially important as interpreters facilitate a program to interpret controversial topics such as climate change, human-wildlife interaction, and conservation practices (NPS, 2014a). Immediacy behaviors, such as AIT, prior to engaging in dialogue may allow interpreters to establish security and allow for more fruitful and genuine conversations.
The second platform that exists in the field of interpretation is credibility—especially as it relates to interpreting controversial topics. In the research, three areas or dimensions of credibility have been identified (Finn et al., 2009). Competence, trust-worthiness and caring all have a role in how credible a visitor perceives the interpreter. Knowledge and the style of communication can affect the competence-perception of an interpreter. Trustworthiness can be indicated by an interpreter’s appearance, their position title and personal interactions with the audience. Finally, caring is demonstrated with sincerity and the interpreter’s interactions with the audience (Stern & Powell, 2013).
The latter two areas of credibility (trustworthiness and caring) could be impacted through AIT. In this case, if done well, touch may work in concert with immediacy behaviors and other factors to render interpreters more credible in the eyes of participants. Using touch to facilitate responsiveness to certain content or spark dialogue may prove to be a powerful method of bridge-building with audience members.
Visitors engaged in park programming, as in all communication platforms, process the experience through a variety of filters. From prior research, the perception of an interpreter can have strong effects on the overall satisfaction with the program. Research in parallel fields has shown positive impacts from using touch. Studying the implications of using AIT in an interpretive setting would provide a better means of establishing immediacy, rapport, and credibility in the visitor. To further extend understanding of AIT, the objectives of this study were to: (1) determine the current use of interpersonal touch in the field of interpretation, (2) determine whether AIT affects the perceived credibility of the interpreter versus a control group, (3) determine whether AIT affects the perceived credibility of the message versus a control group, and (4) develop boundaries and guidance for the use of AIT in the field of interpretation.
To discern the role of AIT in the field of interpretation, researchers developed and implemented a three-part, mixed-method study. Part one consisted of a professional sample of four interpreters sharing their previous experience and understanding using AIT. Researchers conducted this qualitative study first in order to get a baseline understanding of the use of AIT in the field of interpretation. The second study conducted was a field-based mixed-method survey study to discern the impact of AIT on interpretive program participants. Finally, as a follow-up, researchers interviewed the four interpreters who led the programs that were part of the second study to determine their perceptions of the use of touch in the field as well as during the study. This qualitative aspect allowed researchers to gather additional angles of the use of AIT, understand the impact of AIT on interpreters, discern best practices for training interpreters and build staging for future research. Though included below in detail, more specific information on the methods included in this study can be found in Shortt (2017).
Survey Site Description
The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is a 720-acre non-profit nature park located near the town of Boone, North Carolina, in the southern Appalachians that hosts about 250,000 visitors per year. The park’s mission statement of “inspiring conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain” is partially fulfilled by the park’s education staff (Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, 2011). Led by naturalist interpreters, the staff offers several animal encounter interpretive talks daily from April 1 through October 31. Several of the park’s education staff are Certified Interpretive Guides through the National Association for Interpretation, so staff are trained in the practice of interpreting park resources.
Professional Sample Methodology
In order to better understand how practicing interpreters view the current use of AIT, a small professional sample of interpreters was asked three questions to discern the limitations, opportunities, and current use of touch in the field. A short questionnaire was given to four frontline interpreters with three questions relating to the use of AIT in interpretive settings:
- Do you think AIT could or should be used as a means of establishing credibility or rapport with a visitor?
- Why don’t you think AIT has been studied or implemented as a practice in the field of interpretation?
- If you have practiced frontline interpretation, how often have you used AIT in interpretive programming and/or informal interactions in the past?
AIT was defined to ensure that there was a boundary presented to touch, so interpreters knew the appropriate forms of touch. Sampling was purposive; the questionnaire was sent to interpreters with different backgrounds and experiences who were all known to the primary researcher through his interactions in graduate school and professional contacts. The questionnaire was sent by e-mail to the professional sample and saved electronically following receipt from participants. Results from this part of the study were used to develop the field-based survey used in the second study.
Field-based Survey Methodology
Researchers used a survey instrument to measure each adult visitor’s perception of an interpreter and the interpreter’s message in control and experimental treatment groups. Both groups took part in an interpretive talk about black bears that intentionally included a controversial topic (such as climate change or hunting). This program was offered regularly in the animal habitats area of the park and interpreted the wild lives of black bears including diet, population changes, physical features, and seasonal behaviors.
All adult participants in the experimental treatment group received a welcome handshake prior to the program. At the point when the program was scheduled to start, the interpreter made an announcement to ensure visitors were aware that the participants could take a survey following the conclusion of the program. Each person was asked prior to turning in his or her survey if he or she heard the survey announcement to ensure he or she received the handshake and viewed the full program. Researchers also included a question in the experimental group survey that determines if the visitor received the handshake. Control groups received the same programming without being touched.
The survey instrument constructed for this study was based upon a credibility study conducted by Appelman and Sundar (2016) and used seven adjectives to measure the visitor’s perception of the message and the interpreter. The adjectives were: accurate, authentic, believable, authoritative, reliable, reputable, and trustworthy. Demographic data were also recorded on the surveys; visitors checked boxes indicating their age, gender, race and ethnicity. In order to determine a visitor’s perspective on the impact of AIT, the back of the survey for the treatment group included two additional questions: “Do you think [the handshake] affected your perception of the message the interpreter provided?” and “Do you think [the handshake] affected your perception of the interpreter?” Survey participants could check “yes” or “no” in response to these questions. There was also an option for a visitor to explain “why or why not” to both of their answers.
Sample size was based on the 2016 projected annual number of participants in educational programming in this area of the park: 57,500. Researchers chose to survey at least 400 participants, attending programs with four separate interpreters, which gave a margin of error of +/- 5.64% at the 95% confidence interval. The intended survey had half of the participants surveyed in the control group and the remaining in the experimental group.
Two interpreters were male and two were female; all interpreters were white and non-Hispanic. Two of the interpreters had over 10 years of experience in natural resource interpretation while the other two had more than three years of experience. All participants in the survey were adults—age 18 and older. These groups were surveyed alternating between control and experimental groups on the same day. Researchers conducted a short pilot study on September 23, 2016, which helped in development of protocol, the timing of the announcements and survey collection, and a checklist to ensure process consistency. A training was held to ensure processes were consistent with each interpreter. Specifically, interpreters were instructed to ensure the handshake was the variable that should change between control and experimental groups. Data were collected during the month of October 2016.
A record of each survey was paired with a program form. Incomplete surveys were withdrawn from the dataset. Any surveys in the experimental group that did not record receiving a handshake were also withdrawn from the dataset. Each variable (adjectives and demographic information) was given a label; the responses were converted to a number and entered into IBM® SPSS® Statistics Version 24 for analysis and a data file was created.
Participating Interpreter Interviews
Interpreters who participated in the field study were later interviewed by the researcher about their experience to determine if they would be comfortable using AIT in future programs. These interviews were transcribed and analyzed to determine consistency and to highlight practical applications to the field of interpretation from the perspective on the interpreter.
As noted in the methodology, the researchers conducted three congruent studies to gauge the use and impact of AIT in interpretive programs. The results of each of these studies are found as follows:
Study 1: Professional Sample Study Results
Upon receipt of the professional sample’s responses to the interview questions, researchers saved responses and looked for convergent ideas in their responses. Every participant agreed that AIT could be used as a means of establishing credibility or rapport with visitors. Three of the four participants also shared some form of boundary that brought concern about AIT being used in interpretive settings. The three boundaries cited were children, germ dispersal, and societal customs. One participant expanded that the handshake is the most likely platform for AIT to establish credibility or rapport, though there are challenges with using this in informal settings with introverted people. Another participant shared that the reason it was not used was because of societal norms: “we are a hands-off society.” These comments were certainly consistent with the reviewed literature about touch. Interestingly, all the participants shared that they have used AIT in an informal or formal programming setting. Based on the responses to the interview questions, frontline interpreters are open to the use of AIT as a means of establishing credibility or rapport. Researchers understood that AIT has boundaries that need to be clear. Practitioners also affirmed that AIT is currently being used in the field, though it is not clear if this is intentionally used or if it is part of normal communication that is established within the interpreter.
Study 2: Field-based Survey Study Results – Data Analysis
Of the 450 collected surveys, 404 were usable for data analysis. Data were entered into IBM® SPSS® Statistics Version 24 for analysis (Table 1).
Of all usable surveys, 230 surveys were used in the control group and 174 surveys were used in the experimental group. Most participants (78%) who completed surveys were between 30 and 69 years old. The median age was the 30- to 49-year-old group. Of those who recorded their gender, 38% were male and 62% were female. Most participants who recorded race were white (94%). A small percentage of participants that completed surveys and recorded ethnicity were Hispanic (6%) (Table 2).
Researchers used a t-test to compare means between the control and experimental groups. The t-test revealed higher means in the experimental group compared with the control group for all content and interpreter scores (Table 3). Differences in means between the control and experimental group ranged from a high of 0.20 (the scoring for the adjective “Authoritative”) to a low of 0.11 (the scoring for the adjective “Reliable”). The highest scored adjective was “Believable” with mean scores of 6.71 and 6.84 in the control and experimental groups respectively. The lowest scored adjective was “Authoritative” with mean scores of 6.4 and 6.6 in the control and experimental groups, respectively. Additionally, researchers calculated Cohen’s d to examine the standardized difference between means in the control and experimental group averages. The Cohen’s d values for the average content score and average interpreter score were 0.327 and 0.277, respectively.
Researchers ran a t-test to compare the interpreter’s gender on the scores and ran a t-test to discern if participant gender impacted scores; overall, females rated the interpreters higher than males in both control and experimental groups (Table 4). The difference in mean values ranged from 0.45 (the scoring for the adjective “Authoritative”) to 0.12 (the scoring for the adjective “Believable”). To compare scores among the four interpreters, researchers ran a Kruskal-Wallis test and compared content and interpreter scores in both the control and experimental groups. Though there were apparent differences in the scores that were consistent across all categories, the significance value for most of these was too high to attribute statistical significance.
Ethnicity did not impact scores according to statistical results with p-values ranging from 0.144 to 0.606. The ANOVA test comparing means for race had one statistically significant value (“reputable”), but all other p-values were higher than 0.05. Researchers were also unable to find strong statistically significant (p<.05) results when comparing the differences in control and experimental groups scoring with interpreter gender or participant age using t-tests and ANOVA tests.
To determine if other demographic variables worked in concert with one another to impact the scoring, a Two-Way ANOVA was run using gender and age as fixed factors for both average interpreter score and average content score. The results from these tests showed that gender and age independently impacted the average interpreter scoring while gender impacted average content score.
Study 2: Field-based Survey Study Results – Open-ended Questions
The survey had an open-ended component in order to understand how visitors perceived the impact of AIT in the program. Visitors were asked to respond to three questions regarding the use of a handshake only after completing the first portion (quantitative scoring section) of the survey. When asked if the handshake had an impact on their perception of the message (content) of the interpreter, 69% answered “yes.” When asked if the handshake had an impact on the perception of the interpreter, 72% answered “yes.” Eighty-six people responded with comments about whether the use of a handshake impacted their perception of the content and of the interpreter. The word “personal” was found 30 times in the 86 entries (35%) and “personable” was found 19 times (22%). Several participants shared that the handshake “made it more personal.” Other common themes in the comments were centered on how “approachable” the interpreter was with the handshake and how the handshake communicated that the interpreter was “welcoming.” One visitor shared that the interpreter “came across as very sincere and approachable.” This approachability was linked to being more comfortable asking questions during and after the program several times. Another participant shared that the touch “provided a connection and introduction that helped make questions easier to ask.” A few visitors commented on how the handshake did not affect their perception, and one visitor made a comment that indicated concerns over germ dispersal.
Study 3: Participating Interpreter Interview Results
Following the survey portion of the study, researchers interviewed the interpreters who participated in the study to ascertain their views of the use of touch in their interpretive programs. In general, the interpreters commented on the awkwardness of giving handshakes to large groups and shared their interest in using the tool for small groups.
One interpreter recognized that their comfort with this changed over the course of the study: “at first seemed like an awkward imposition, but I got more comfortable with it.” That same interpreter shared that their “impression is that it got people more receptive to the message and they certainly got comfortable…that connection somehow seemed to open up the gate for a lot more post-[program] discussion.”
The future use of AIT in small groups was brought up in every interpreter interview. One interpreter shared, “I really got to see that when I used it with a smaller group that it seemed there was this positive effect and that there was more buy-in. More of them wanted to do the survey afterwards and all kinds of things. Since then, when I have had smaller groups—like for the Wonders of the Winter World [program]—I have done that. It doesn’t seem to be out of place. It seems to be very welcoming and well-received. I don’t think that I will use it with groups larger than say 10 people.”
When one interpreter was asked about using AIT in the future, she said, “I plan to use it in the future—maybe not as much on that high of a level. If there are smaller groups—say maybe up to 5 to 15 individuals, I definitely think that is well within reason.”
A common concern was using AIT with large groups that limited the interpreter’s ability to establish a deep rapport. Another interpreter shared their concern that “it’s more of the fact that I need to shake everybody’s hand—not just one or two people that I’m talking to and getting a rapport with [that makes it uncomfortable].” That interpreter also cited concerns about people who do not want to shake hands due to fears of getting sick. Notably, one interpreter commented that it’s a “great tool for interpreters in the field” and that “when it’s used correctly, it is very valuable.”
Discussion & Conclusions
From the results of each of the parts of this study, researchers recognized that AIT is currently used in the field without a lot of guidance and training from supervisors, that AIT positively impacts the visitor’s perception of the interpreter and the message, and that interpreters believe that AIT use is best used in small groups in the formal interpretive talk setting.
Professional sample study
In the professional sample study, researchers gained a better understanding of the current use of AIT from the front lines of interpretation: interpreters are routinely using AIT in the field and believe that it can be used as a means of establishing credibility. Other questions emerged from the group’s responses: if AIT is currently being used in the field, is it being used intentionally or is it a habit that is part of the normal way of interacting and communicating with others? From what researchers gathered, AIT is driven by the interpreter’s personality and personal relationship skills rather than from purposive inclusion in training.
Another aspect of the use of AIT that the professional sample of interpreters dealt with in this study was boundaries. Two participants cited examples of boundaries in their responses centered around children. Researchers recognized this limitation in designing the field study by excluding children from the experimental group and noted the limitation of where people were comfortable being touched. Two focus group participants mentioned a handshake in their responses as being a possible acceptable form of touch. It is clear from these studies that establishing boundaries on the use of touch is important—Suvilehto’s (2015) research shows that a touch on the hand is the most accepted form of touch. It is worth noting that there are other culturally acceptable forms of touch, such as a shoulder pat or fist bump, but for the sake of continuity, researchers chose to only test a handshake as the AIT in question. A shoulder pat or fist bump may also alleviate concerns over germ dispersal. Mela and Whitworth (2014) did get a lot of international press on using a fist-bump instead of a handshake, but critics (Reilly, Currie, & Madeo, 2016) point out the cultural appropriateness of the type of hand gesture, and the distraction from proper hand-hygiene do not necessarily make fist-bumping a superior option. Possibly for American youth, this could be a valid choice.
Field-based Survey Study
The field-based survey study was set up to discern whether AIT had an impact on the perceived credibility of the interpreter and on the perceived credibility of the message conveyed. Researchers thought, based on prior studies and personal experience, that AIT would have a positive impact on both aspects of an interpretive program. Researchers particularly were interested in credibility because prior research shows how necessary it is for the success of programs—particularly the openness of an audience and the response to a program. After examining the results, two primary research questions (whether AIT impacted the perceived credibility of the interpreter and the perception of the content’s accuracy) were understood to be answered positively.
According to the results, AIT positively impacted perceived credibility of the interpreter. All four adjectives (authoritative, reliable, reputable, and trustworthy) used to rate the interpreter yielded higher values that were statistically significant. The Cohen’s d value for the interpreter scores indicates the impact of AIT is overall small but significant. This demonstrates that perceived credibility and the associated perceptions that come with being comfortable with an interpreter can be altered by something other than the spoken word. Interpreters may take note that establishing credibility, in some cases, begins before anything is said in an interpretive program. While a handshake may not be the only technique at work in these settings, it does work in concert with other immediacy behaviors (eye contact, small talk, and other gestures) to lead visitors to view or perceive an interpreter as more credible. Unpacking the three aspects of credibility described by Finn et al. (2009), paired with the increased credibility that visitors had with touch in this study, leads us to infer that these positive perceptions may have rendered positive visitor satisfaction results as they did in Stern and Powell (2013). Again, if looking across disciplines in previous research, a visitor’s perception of the interpreter is linked to greater receptivity and response to the program message from audience members.
The field-based survey study also produced an understanding that AIT may affect the perception of the content’s accuracy as well. This was true for all the scores for the three adjectives (accurate, authentic, and believable) used to measure the perception of the content. The Cohen’s d value for content scores indicates that AIT has a small but significant effect. While researchers recognize the importance of proper research and communication by an interpreter to share content and meanings, this does demonstrate that visitors make determinations of accuracy with filters other than what is articulated. Knowing this, it is important to establish a strong first impression connection with visitors. Synthesized with the Stern and Powell study (2013), AIT may be a way of demonstrating confidence toward a visitor, which was the strongest contributor to positive program outcomes (in visitor satisfaction, visitor experience and appreciation, and behavioral intentions of the visitor).
The open-ended portion of the survey that the experimental group participated in yielded interesting results as well. This portion of the survey explored the view that visitors had of the impact of touch on them. This angle of the study sought to determine whether quantitative results matched qualitative results. At minimum, most visitors shared they were aware of the positive impact of AIT on their experience. Most visitors indicated that AIT had impacted their perception of the interpreter and message. Many of those visitors also wrote comments to further explain and provide insight into why AIT affected them. While these responses could be viewed as preconceived, positive comments do show that interpreters are viewed favorably—regardless of whether their reasoning is correct, assumed or otherwise.
Participating Interpreter Interviews
Results of the field-based survey were statistically significant at the 95% confidence interval for both content and interpreter credibility. Though statistics alone cannot speak to causation, feedback from the interpreters during post-survey interviews showed that the interpreters perceived a positive impact of touch on the receptivity of the message. One interpreter shared a comment of their impression that the use of AIT “got people more receptive to the message” and that AIT “seemed to open up the gate for a lot more post-[program] discussion.” One interpreter was uncomfortable using AIT toward the end of the mixed-methods study. This could have been a result of the intensity of the experimental design—interpreters had to shake dozens of hands when large audiences were present. This does highlight that using AIT is two-way and the interpreter must be comfortable in order to use it effectively. In addition, much research has been conducted on the comfort of those receiving touch, this highlights the need for additional research on those giving AIT. Since this study was conducted, researchers have begun to explore the issue of how those giving AIT think about this, including a recent study by Tu, Wang, and Yao (2018), who have developed a scale to be used with teachers to explore their perceptions of AIT.
From each angle of the study, it appears that AIT can be used in concert with other techniques of establishing rapport to increase the perception of the interpreter and the believability of the message. This is consistent with the Stern and Powell (2013) study that indicated a high correlation between a visitor’s satisfaction with the program and the perception of the interpreter as a friend. Additionally, while there was a statistically significant impact on the credibility of the interpreter and the perception of the message using AIT in large groups, researchers recognize that there may be limitations and awkwardness using AIT in groups sizes greater than 15 people with similar spatial and time-bound parameters. Other variables that were examined and produced statistically significant results included participant gender and age. Females rated interpreters more highly in general and the youngest age group rated interpreters lower than other age groups. Researchers also recognized that gender and age impacted scoring independent from one another. Other variables that could have impacted scoring were participant race and participant ethnicity. P-values indicated participant race and ethnicity did not broadly impact scoring at a statistically significant level. Part of this was due to a low race and ethnicity sample sizes. The gender of the interpreter did not play a statistically significant role in scoring either. Because these variables (participant ethnicity and interpreter gender) had no statistically significant difference on scoring, they can be treated as a constant in the experiment and perhaps give further credence that AIT affected the results independent of other variables. As expected, individual interpreters had variations in scoring; only the interpreter credibility scores were significantly different. These demographic variables cannot be altered by an interpreter, unlike AIT, which is an optional tool that is easily implemented.
Implications for Practice
A final consideration is whether AIT could be implemented as a training tool in the field of interpretation. Since AIT is an effective tool used to establish credibility or rapport, how could the tool be communicated or implemented effectively and clearly to frontline interpreters? Researchers recommend that this topic is addressed and modeled in interpretive trainings to share its validated role in establishing rapport with park visitors as well as the benefits that come with that relationship: a higher perception of the message and the interpreter. In the process, the other immediacy techniques could be reviewed. It is also valuable to communicate the limitations of its use as well—establishing a handshake as the best form of AIT and its use with adults only. Addressing the use of AIT in adults versus children could lead to a clearer understanding of boundaries among staff—this will ensure practices are park-directed rather than interpreter-directed. Based on feedback from staff, AIT may be a better training tool in its use with small audiences—especially in programs reliant on audience input and interaction such as facilitated dialogue experiences. Regarding facilitated dialogue, AIT may be a simple and effective way to lay a foundation of trust and ease to visitors prior to the community-building portion of the Arc of Dialogue (NPS, 2014b). Researchers are very interested in studying the degree of engagement in facilitated dialogue experiences with and without the presence of AIT. Because the study showed a low degree of diversity among its visitors, researchers are also interested in studying the use of AIT in other culture groups—particularly in other countries.
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