Can the mind be divorced from the body? As evidenced by a host of findings in the traditions of grounded cognition and embodiment, sensorimotor experience can exert a powerful influence on what and how people think. The current investigation explores the conditions that temper or enable this influence, proposing that level of mental construal may moderate the role of temporary physical state in judgment. Insofar as the sensorimotor information responsible for grounding cognition constitutes an incidental and thus low-level feature of a situation, it should exert less influence from an abstract or high-level (versus concrete) frame of mind. Two studies provide support for this prediction: Contextual bodily information affected visual length estimates (Study 1) and importance ratings (Study 2) for people led to think concretely but not for those thinking abstractly. These results suggest that high-level thought allows for consistency by buffering against the effects of transitory situational factors.
construal level theory; physical body; distance; priming; judgment
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
In a series of studies, we examined novel predictions drawn from a conceptualization of probability as psychological distance. Manipulating construal level in a number of different ways and examining a variety of probability judgments, we found that participants led to adopt a high-level-construal mind-set made lower probability assessments than did those led to adopt a low-level-construal mind-set. Moreover, this occurred even when construal level was manipulated in a context separate from the judgment task and the manipulation was unrelated in content to the events being judged. These findings suggest that broad processing variables can exert a widespread influence on probability judgment.
The vast majority of work in construal level theory focuses prospectively on the future. Through a series of studies controlling for knowledge about an event, we look retrospectively at the past and demonstrate that construal mindsets can materially influence how a past event is reconstructed in memory. Specifically, an event recalled in a more concrete mindset feels subjectively closer than when recalled in an abstract mindset (Studies 1–3). We present evidence suggesting this is because a concrete mindset actually makes people feel as though they know more, even if they were initially exposed to the same set of information—perceived information accessibility mediates the effect of construal level on temporal distance (Study 2). The effect of construal level on memory reconstruction extends to judgments of blame, where judgments of greater temporal distance drive a greater propensity to blame parties for negative events and temporal distance mediates these judgments (Study 3). Together, these studies are the first to demonstrate that the mindset employed when recalling an event shapes its remembrance.
Memory; Time perception; Construal level
The present research suggests that negotiators who represented negotiation issues more abstractly were more likely to reach integrative agreements. Specifically, participants who were prompted to directly think about their negotiation issues in a more abstract manner by generating general descriptions of the issues rather than more concretely about the negotiation issues by generating specific descriptions of the issues made more multi-issue offers and achieved higher joint gain from the negotiation. The role of abstraction in negotiation and conflict resolution is discussed.
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
Across 3 experiments, the authors examined the effects of temporal distance on negotiation behavior. They found that greater temporal distance from negotiation decreased preference for piecemeal, single-issue consideration over integrative, multi-issue consideration (Experiment 1). They also found that greater temporal distance from an event being negotiated increased interest in conceding on the lowest priority issue and decreased interest in conceding on the highest priority issue (Experiment 2). Lastly, they found increased temporal distance from an event being negotiated produced a greater proportion of multi-issue offers, a greater likelihood of conceding on the lowest priority issue in exchange for a concession on the highest priority issue, and greater individual and joint outcomes (Experiment 3). Implications for conflict resolution and construal level theory are discussed.
construal; time; psychological distance; negotiation; integrative
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.
Can psychological distance affect how much perceivers form spontaneous trait inferences (STI) from others’ behaviors? On the basis of construal level theory (CLT) which posits that distant (vs. near) entities are represented more in terms of their abstract, global, and decontextualized features, we predicted that perceived distance would increase the tendency for perceivers to draw spontaneous trait inferences from behavioral information about actors. In two experiments, participants learned about people who were perceived as being distant or proximal to the self, and STI formation was subsequently assessed. We found that perceivers were more likely to form STIs about distant vs. near actors from the same behavioral information. These findings generalized across two distance dimensions: space and time. In addition, we found that priming individuals to adopt a high-level (vs. low-level) construal mindset also resulted in increased STI (Experiment 3). In sum, psychological distance facilitates STI formation, and this occurs via high-level construal of actors and their behaviors.
Person perception; Social cognition; Trait inference; Construal; Psychological distance
Researchers have long been interested in understanding the conditions under which evaluations will be more or less consistent or context-dependent. The current research explores this issue by asking when stability or flexibility in evaluative responding would be most useful. Integrating construal level theory with research suggesting that variability in the mental representation of an attitude object can produce fluctuations in evaluative responding, we propose a functional relationship between distance and evaluative flexibility. Because individuals construe psychologically proximal objects more concretely, evaluations of proximal objects will tend to incorporate unique information from the current social context, promoting context-specific responses. Conversely, because more distal objects are construed more abstractly, evaluations of distal objects will be less context-dependent. Consistent with this reasoning, the results of 4 studies suggest that when individuals mentally construe an attitude object concretely, either because it is psychologically close or because they have been led to adopt a concrete mindset, their evaluations flexibly incorporate the views of an incidental stranger. However, when individuals think about the same issue more abstractly, their evaluations are less susceptible to incidental social influence and instead reflect their previously reported ideological values. These findings suggest that there are ways of thinking that will tend to produce more or less variability in mental representation across contexts, which in turn shapes evaluative consistency. Connections to shared reality, conformity, and attitude function are discussed.
attitudes; context-dependence; social influence; construal level; psychological distance
Previous research suggests that affirming one’s important values is a powerful way of protecting one’s general self integrity, allowing non-defensive processing of self-relevant information. In a series of four studies linking self-affirmation with construal level, we find that in addition to any self buffering effect, thinking about one’s values and why they are important more generally shifts cognitive processing towards superordinate and structured thinking. Self-affirmation leads participants to perceive a greater degree of structure within their selves (Study 1), to increasingly identify actions in terms of their endstates (Study 2), to more strongly distinguish between primary and secondary object features (Study 3) and to perform better on tasks requiring abstract, structured thinking than those requiring detail-oriented, concrete thinking. Together, these findings suggest that thinking about important values helps individuals to structure information and focus on the big picture.
Self-affirmation; Construal level; Abstraction; Procedural priming; Self-structure
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.