When Good Things Feel Closer and Bad Things Feel Farther: The Role of Perceived Control on Psychological Distance Perception

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Journal Article
Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2018, 28 (4), pp. 629 - 643
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© 2018 Society for Consumer Psychology Prior research has found that people perceive positive objects and locations as physically closer than negative ones. Yet, other work has found the opposite to be true for perceptions of temporal distance, where negative future events feel closer than positive ones. Motivated by this seeming discrepancy, we propose that (a) feelings of control can differentially influence how far away valenced (i.e., positive or negative) targets feel in space and time and that (b) the difference in perceived control over space versus time can account for these opposite findings. First, across four studies, we show that high (vs. low) control makes positive targets feel closer and negative targets feel more distant in both physical space (Studies 1 and 1a) and time (Studies 2 and 2a). Then, in Studies 3 and 4, we simultaneously examine perceptions of spatial and temporal distance and show that baseline differences in perceived control between these domains can explain the prior discrepant findings. Finally, a within-paper meta-analysis offers further support to these findings.
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