Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

Where do i sit? A study on public internet viewing of pornography and news

Student Researcher(s)

Sai-Eh Park (B.A. Candidate); Mark Pesapane (B.A. Candidate); Jay Romberg (B.A. Candidate); Russell Smith (B.A. Candidate); Jeff Watkins (B.A. Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar


The growing importance of online communication has spurred research in a number of domains that were once restricted to traditional media. For example, two of the domains that have attracted a lot of research attention are those of online news and internet pornography. This study seeks to contribute to this growing body of research by examining the issue of personal space when viewing either internet pornography or online news.


Based on prior research, it was hypothesized that when choosing to view a pornographic web site, subjects' discomfort levels, companionship, and the awkwardness of sitting next to someone will be greater than those subjects who are going to be viewing a news-oriented web site.


Twenty-five participants took part in a between-participants experiment. They were exposed to two online sites: a news site or a pornography site. Half the participants viewed the news site while the other half viewed the pornography site. Participants in both conditions were told that they would be viewing a particular online site (depending on the condition they were assigned to) and asked to choose a seat in the computer laboratory. After they had been exposed to the relevant site, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire which had items pertaining to frequency and nature of exposure to news sites and pornography sites, as well as some items related to demographic information. Every participant's seating position was recorded.


Participants viewing pornography chose to sit almost twice as far away from other people as subjects viewing news. Thus, the hypothesis was supported. There were also interesting gender differences. Females preferred almost four times as much space between themselves and others when they viewed pornography as when they viewed news. In contrast, males had no such preference. Further, females were less comfortable with where they were sitting in the pornography condition, while there was no statistically significant difference in the comfort level of males.


The results from this study contribute to a growing body of research documenting the behavioral aspects of online communication. In addition to the main finding reported, the differences between males and females warrant more thorough investigation. Future research can also examine the implications of an individual's perception of personal space, especially when it interacts with cyberspace.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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