Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

So near, So Good: Does Near-Distance Perception Reduce Interpersonal Psychological Distance?

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

So near, So Good: Does Near-Distance Perception Reduce Interpersonal Psychological Distance?

Article excerpt

Distance is related to many interpersonal processes. Further, interpersonal distance can be divided into near and far space based on different visual processing areas (Previc, 1998). Individuals' spatial distance varies according to the degree of intimacy (Hall, 1959). Thus, in interpersonal interactions, the question arises of whether or not distance perception affects the psychological distance between two individuals (the distance effect), and whether or not it affects the initial impressions that are formed when people meet for the first time.

Distance Perception, Construal Level Theory, and Embodied Cognition Theory

Construal level theory is focused on the relationship between temporal-spatial distance and mental representation (Trope, Liberman, & Wakslak, 2007), and comprises two methods of processing construal levels: high-level construction, in which an event occurring in a remote location is represented in a general, abstract way without setting the scene, and low-level construction, in which an event occurring in a close location is represented in a localized, specific way with a set scene. Trope and colleagues (Trope & Liberman, 2010; Trope et al., 2007) hypothesized that changes in the distance of an event location would produce changes in mental representations, and that different construal levels would affect behavior and decision making.

Some scholars have investigated the influence of spatial distance on personal relevance and attitudes toward objects and events by manipulating proximity (far or near), for instance, using events occurring in a local community or in a distant locality. Zhong and Zhang (2011), for example, found that events with a nearer versus farther spatial distance had a greater effect on personal relevance and attitude toward donations to animal protection funds. Williams and Bargh (2008) demonstrated that, compared with near distance, far distance produced more enjoyment from reading an embarrassing story, less emotional pain from violent media, less appetite for unhealthy foods, and less emotional attachment to family members and hometown. Thus, individuals form very different mental representations of near and far stimuli, and spatial distance affects their attitudes and emotional experiences.

Embodied cognition theory is used to address distance perception from the viewpoint that cognition depends on the interaction between individuals' nervous systems and the subject (or object), and is deeply grounded in the physical makeup of human beings as they connect to the world (Li, 2008). In this theory, the external environment and bodily states are used as external information sources to supplement internal representation. This relates to situational characteristics by simulating a modal system in the brain, thereby allowing for adaptation to the adjoining external structure (Barsalou, 2010). Thus, modal simulation, physical state, and situational action jointly create an individual's cognition (Barsalou, 2008). Further, the means and steps of the cognitive process are determined by the physical properties of the body, the cognitive content provided by the body, and the body itself, which is embedded in the environment, so that cognition, body, and environment comprise a dynamic unit.

Consciousness and motor systems are associated with different representations, of which one can be directly converted to another, with the mirror neuron system allowing people to directly convert information between representational channels (Gallese, 2013; Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004). Using this system, the brain can simulate the activation of perception, action, and introspective states, thereby temporally reactivating the actual experience. Therefore, when individuals interact with others at a certain spatial distance, the external environment will activate a specific kind of interpersonal processing for the relevant interpersonal spatial distance. In line with this, when attitudes toward others are evaluated at a near distance, the original interpersonal processing mode of objects with a close relationship between the two individuals is easily reactivated. …

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