Uncovering a new angle on mental distance

April 10, 2014
Uncovering a new angle on mental distance

Why does the second hour of a journey seem shorter than the first? According to research from University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) and the Rotman School of Management, the answer lies in how we're physically oriented in space.

In a series of six studies, Sam Maglio, an assistant professor in UTSC's Department of Management, demonstrated that a person's orientation—the direction they are headed—changed how they thought of an object or event.

The research is forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Feeling close to or distant from something impacts our behavior and judgment," says Maglio. "We feel more socially connected, more emotionally engaged, and more attuned to the present when something is perceived as close."

What we don't know is what leads to a feeling of closeness, he says. Previous studies have focused on changing objective measures, such as distance or time, to make something feel subjectively close or far.

"But people move around their environments, constantly going closer to some things and farther from others," says Maglio. "We wanted to see if this movement changed how people perceived their surroundings."

Using everyday locations and objects such as subway stations, lottery draws, and Starbucks drinks, Maglio and Evan Polman (University of Wisconsin-Madison) found that people heading in a certain direction considered the places ahead to be physically nearer than those behind, although the actual distance was the same.

People also felt events that occurred in the direction they were headed happened more recently and that those events would be more likely to occur. Interestingly, the feeling of closeness occurred regardless of whether events were good or bad. Strangers who were coming towards participants were thought to be more similar to themselves than when those same strangers were headed away.

Maglio says the research supports previous findings showing that something that feels close in one way, such as physical distance, will also feel close in time, probability, and social similarity. "That's why a phrase such as A long time ago in a distant land makes more intuitive sense than in a nearby land."

According to Maglio, this research could potentially impact business, such as retail:

"Firms that induce a sense of orientation towards the customer might be able to create psychological closeness and connection."

Explore further: Need a new brand name? Think of your vowels, says new research

Related Stories

Need a new brand name? Think of your vowels, says new research

January 17, 2014
A simple shift in a vowel's sound can change the way people think and make decisions about objects – leading to a greater connection between a brand's name and product features a business wants to highlight, says new research ...

We're emotionally distant and that's just fine by me

February 13, 2013
When it comes to having a lasting and fulfilling relationship, common wisdom says that feeling close to your romantic partner is paramount. But a new study finds that it's not how close you feel that matters most, it's whether ...

In the face of trauma, distance helps people find clarity, study shows

August 22, 2013
In the wake of tragedies such as the Sandy Hook school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and the devastating explosion in the Texas town of West, people are often left asking, "Why did this happen?"

Events in the future seem closer than those in the past, study shows

March 13, 2013
We say that time flies, it marches on, it flows like a river—our descriptions of time are closely linked to our experiences of moving through space. Now, new research suggests that the illusions that influence how we perceive ...

Too soon? Too late? Psychological distance matters when it comes to humor

September 10, 2012
Joking around can land us in hot water. Even the professionals often shoot themselves comedically in the foot. Last month, comedian Jeffrey Ross's routine at a roast of Rosanne Barr was censored when he joked about the shooting ...

Recommended for you

Ketamine for depression encouraging, but questions remain around long-term use

July 27, 2017
A world-first systematic review into the safety of ketamine as a treatment for depression, published in the prestigious Lancet Psychiatry, shows the risks of long-term ketamine treatment remain unclear.

Researchers crack the smile, describing three types by muscle movement

July 27, 2017
The smile may be the most common and flexible expression, used to reveal some emotions, cover others and manage social interactions that have kept communities secure and organized for millennia.

Even babies can tell who's the boss, UW research says

July 27, 2017
The charismatic colleague, the natural leader, the life of the party - all are personal qualities that adults recognize instinctively. These socially dominant types, according to repeated studies, also tend to accomplish ...

Infants know what we like best, study finds

July 27, 2017
Behind the chubby cheeks and bright eyes of babies as young as 8 months lies the smoothly whirring mind of a social statistician, logging our every move and making odds on what a person is most likely to do next, suggests ...

DREAMers at greater risk for mental health distress

July 27, 2017
Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as small children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, more commonly known as DREAMers, are at risk for mental health ...

Negativity, be gone—new online tool can retrain your brain

July 27, 2017
Anxiety and depression can have devastating effects on people's lives. In some cases, the mental disorders lead to isolation, poverty and poor physical health, things that often cascade to future generations.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.