Much work in the field of social cognition shows that adopting an abstract (vs concrete) mindset alters the way people construe the world, thereby exerting substantial effects across innumerable aspects of human behavior. In order to investigate the cognitive and neural basis of these effects, we scanned participants as they performed two widely used tasks that induce an abstracting vs concretizing mindsets. Specifically, participants: (i) indicated ‘why’ perform certain activities (a task that involves abstraction) or ‘how’ the same activities are performed (a task that involves concretization) and (ii) generated superordinate categories for certain objects (a task that involves abstraction) or subordinate exemplars for the same objects (a task that involves concretization). We conducted a conjunction analysis of the two tasks, in order to uncover the neural activity associated with abstraction and concretization. The results showed that concretization was associated with activation in fronto-parietal regions implicated in goal-directed action; abstraction was associated with activity within posterior regions implicated in visual perception. We discuss these findings in light of construal-level theory’s notion of abstraction.
construal level; abstraction; functional magnetic resonance imaging; default network; mirror neuron system; action identification
According to politeness theory (P. Brown & S. Levinson, 1987), politeness serves to both reflect and regulate social distance. On the basis of this notion and on construal level theory (N. Liberman & Y. Trope, 2008; N. Liberman, Y. Trope, & E. Stephan, 2007), it was predicted that politeness would be related to abstract construal, temporal distance, and spatial distance. Eight studies supported this prediction. Politeness increased when the addressees were construed abstractly (Study 1), were temporally distant (Studies 2, 3), and were spatially distant (Study 4). It was also found that increasing politeness produced abstract construals (Study 5), greater temporal distance (Study 6), and greater spatial distance (Study 7, 8). These findings shed light on the way politeness operates in different cultures and is conveyed in different languages, and they support the idea that dimensions of psychological distance are interrelated.
politeness; psychological distance; social distance; construal level theory
A picture-word version of the Stroop task was used to test the automatic activation of words carrying various senses of psychological distance: temporal (tomorrow, in a year), social (friend, enemy), and hypotheticality (sure, maybe). The pictures implied depth with the words appearing relatively close or distant from the observer. The participants classified the spatial distance of words faster when the word’s implicit psychological distance matched their spatial distance (e.g., a geographically close word was classified faster when it was ‘friend’ than when it was ‘enemy’). The findings are consistent with the notion that psychological distance is accessed automatically, even when it is not directly related to people’s current goals, and suggest that psychological distance is an important dimension of meaning, common to spatial distance, temporal distance, social distance, and hypotheticality.
Construal level; word-picture Stroop paradigm; psychological distance; automatic activation
People are capable of thinking about the future, the past, remote locations, another person’s perspective, and counterfactual alternatives. Without denying the uniqueness of each process, it is proposed that they constitute different forms of traversing psychological distance. Psychological distance is egocentric: Its reference point is the self in the here and now, and the different ways in which an object might be removed from that point—in time, in space, in social distance, and in hypotheticality—constitute different distance dimensions. Transcending the self in the here and now entails mental construal, and the farther removed an object is from direct experience, the higher (more abstract) the level of construal of that object. Supporting this analysis, research shows (a) that the various distances are cognitively related to each other, (b) that they similarly influence and are influenced by level of mental construal, and (c) that they similarly affect prediction, preference, and action.
mental construal; abstraction; mental travel; psychological distance
Seven studies provide evidence that representations of the self at a distant-future time point are more abstract and structured than are representations of the self at a near-future time point and that distant-future behaviors are more strongly related to general self-conceptions. Distant-future self-representations incorporate broader, more superordinate identities than do near-future self-representations (Study 1) and are characterized by less complexity (Study 2), more cross-situational consistency (Study 3), and a greater degree of schematicity (Study 4). Furthermore, people’s behavioral predictions of their distant-future (vs. near-future) behavior are more strongly related to their general self-characteristics (Study 5), distant-future behaviors are seen as more self-expressive (Study 6), and distant-future behaviors that do not match up with acknowledged self-characteristics are more strongly rejected as reflections of the self (Study 7). Implications for understanding both the nature of the self-concept and the way in which distance may influence a range of self-processes are discussed.
self-concept; distance; time; construal; self-structure
The authors propose that self-control involves making decisions and behaving in a manner consistent with high-level versus low-level construals of a situation. Activation of high-level construals (which capture global, superordinate, primary features of an event) should lead to greater self-control than activation of low-level construals (which capture local, subordinate, secondary features). In 6 experiments using 3 different techniques, the authors manipulated construal levels and assessed their effects on self-control and underlying psychological processes. High-level construals led to decreased preferences for immediate over delayed outcomes, greater physical endurance, stronger intentions to exert self-control, and less positive evaluations of temptations that undermine self-control. These results support a construal-level analysis of self-control.
self-regulation; self-control; mental construal; preference reversals
Psychological causes of social distance were examined from the perspective of Construal Level Theory (CLT; Liberman, Trope, & Stephan, 2007), which predicts that temporal distance from and abstract construal of a social target would create perception of social distance. Our studies demonstrate that expectations for temporally remote (versus proximal) social interaction produce greater social distance from a target person, measured as reduced familiarity (Study 1) and as reduced similarity to the self (Study 2). We also show that a more abstract, higher level construal of a social target results in less familiarity (Study 3) and in less allocation of resources (Study 4). The research sheds light on how social closeness can be promoted or hindered by previously unaddressed psychological factors.
Social distance; Temporal perspective; Level of construal
It was predicted that because of their abstract nature, values will have greater impact on how individuals plan their distant future than their near future. Experiments 1 and 2 found that values better predict behavioral intentions for distant future situations than near future situations. Experiment 3 found that whereas high-level values predict behavioral intentions for more distant future situations, low-level feasibility considerations predict behavioral intentions for more proximate situation. Finally, Experiment 4 found that the temporal changes in the relationship between values and behavioral intentions depended on how the behavior was construed. Higher correspondence is found when behaviors are construed on a higher level and when behavior is planned for the more distant future than when the same behavior is construed on a lower level or is planned for the more proximal future. The implications of these findings for self-consistency and value conflicts are discussed.
Construal; Values; Construal level theory; Time perspective; Behavioral intentions
Construal level theory (CLT) is an account of how psychological distance influences individuals’ thoughts and behavior. CLT assumes that people mentally construe objects that are psychologically near in terms of low-level, detailed, and contextualized features, whereas at a distance they construe the same objects or events in terms of high-level, abstract, and stable characteristics. Research has shown that different dimensions of psychological distance (time, space, social distance, and hypotheticality) affect mental construal and that these construals, in turn, guide prediction, evaluation, and behavior. The present paper reviews this research and its implications for consumer psychology.
It is argued that the temporal distance of attitude objects systematically changes how the object is mentally represented, and thus influences the strength of particular persuasive appeals. Three experiments tested the hypothesis that people preferentially attend to arguments that highlight primary, abstract (high-level) vs. incidental, concrete (low-level) features when attitude objects are temporally distant vs. near. Results suggested that when attitude objects are temporally distant vs. near, arguments emphasizing primary vs. secondary features (Study 1), desirability vs. feasibility features (Study 2), and general classes vs. specific cases are more persuasive (Study 3). The relation of construal theory to dual process theories of persuasion and persuasion phenomena, such as personal relevance effects and functional matching effects, are discussed.
mental construal; temporal distance; persuasion; attitude change; construal level theory
We propose that people judge immoral acts as more offensive and moral acts as more virtuous when the acts are psychologically distant than near. This is because people construe more distant situations in terms of moral principles, rather than attenuating situation-specific considerations. Results of four studies support these predictions. Study 1 shows that more temporally distant transgressions (e.g., eating one's dead dog) are construed in terms of moral principles rather than contextual information. Studies 2 and 3 further show that morally offensive actions are judged more severely when imagined from a more distant temporal (Study 2) or social (Study 3) perspective. Finally, Study 4 shows that moral acts (e.g., adopting a disabled child) are judged more positively from temporal distance. The findings suggest that people more readily apply their moral principles to distant rather than proximal behaviors.
Psychological distance; Moral judgment; Construal level theory
Building on the assumption that interpersonal similarity is a form of social distance, the current research examines the manner in which similarity influences the representation and judgment of others' actions. On the basis of a construal level approach, we hypothesized that greater levels of similarity would increase the relative weight of subordinate and secondary features of information in judgments of others' actions. The results of four experiments showed that compared to corresponding judgments of a dissimilar target, participants exposed to a similar target person identified that person's actions in relatively more subordinate means-related rather than superordinate ends-related terms (Experiment 1), perceived his or her actions to be determined more by feasibility and less by desirability concerns (Experiment 3), and gave more weight to secondary aspects in judgments of the target's decisions (Experiment 2) and performance (Experiment 4). Implications for the study of interpersonal similarity, as well as social distance in general, are discussed.
interpersonal similarity; social distance; construal level theory; social judgment; mental representations
People directly experience only themselves here and now but often consider, evaluate, and plan situations that are removed in time or space, that pertain to others’ experiences, and that are hypothetical rather than real. People thus transcend the present and mentally traverse temporal distance, spatial distance, social distance, and hypotheticality. We argue that this is made possible by the human capacity for abstract processing of information. We review research showing that there is considerable similarity in the way people mentally traverse different distances, that the process of abstraction underlies traversing different distances, and that this process guides the way people predict, evaluate, and plan near and distant situations.