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A New Angle on Mental Distance Discovered: Feeling Closer Results in Poor Judgement of Space


Do you have the experience that when you travel, you would think the second hour of your trip seems shorter than the first one? What is the reason for it? The research taken by the team from University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) and the Rotman School of Management has given out the answer, which is how we’re physically oriented in space.

Based on his six studies so far, Sam Maglio, an assistant professor in UTSC’s Department of Management, showed that a person’s orientation, in another word, the direction he is moving towards, changed the way of his thinking of an object or event. The research will be soon is released in Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In illustrating his studies, Maglio said that whether we are feeling close to or distant from something did affect our behavior and judgment. If we perceived something as close, we would feel more socially associated connected, more emotionally engaged, and more linked with the present.

The thing that we are not sure now is what causes a feeling of closeness. Previous studies have paid more attention to the changing objective measures, such as time or distance to make something feel subjectively near or distant.

As people come and go constantly in their environments, sometimes getting closer to some things and leaving away from others, so the Maglio’s team is intended to know whether this movement would change the way in which people perceive their surroundings.

In their study, Maglio and Evan Polman (University of Wisconsin-Madison) have found that through identifying daily locations and objects, like lottery draws, Starbucks drinks or subway stations, people moving to a certain direction would think the places ahead to be physically closer than those behind, although in fact the distance is the same.

People could also feel events that take place in the direction they were moving towards would occur more recently and that such events would be more probably to happen. It is very interesting that the feeling of closeness occurred no matter whether events were positive or negative. In the eyes of those participants of the tests, they would think the strangers getting closer to them were more similar to themselves than when those same strangers were leaving away.

Maglio continued to demonstrate that their research had provided the support to the previous findings which showed that something feeling near in one way, such as physical distance, would also feel close in time and probability as well as social similarity. That is maybe the reason why the phrase —A long time ago in a distant land would lead to more intuitive sense than in a nearby land.

In summarizing his studies, Maglio said that their research could leave the potential impact on business, like retail sector. For the companies, if they could induce a sense of orientation towards the customer, they would be more likely to be able to establish psychological closeness and connection between them and prospective customers.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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