Dynamic distance: Use of visual and verbal means of communication as social signals

Brittany Torrez*, Cheryl Wakslak, Elinor Amit

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Across seven studies, we investigated how people's motivation to signal a proximity or distance orientation affects their choice of visual versus verbal means of communication. To explore this question we asked people to communicate using visual or verbal means of representation within diverse contexts (friendship: Studies 1a–1b, 4, and 5, workplace interactions: Studies 2a–2b, and professional websites: Study 3). Across all studies we found that people prefer visual (versus verbal) means of communication when aiming to signal a proximity rather than distance orientation towards the recipient of the message. More broadly, we suggest that people are active agents who use different mediums in a strategic way (conscious or not) in order to dynamically influence distance: visual representations are used to signal preference to reduce distance, and verbal representations to signal preference to increase distance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103849
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 2019


FundersFunder number
National Science FoundationBCS-1349054


    • Communication
    • Distance
    • Motivation
    • Verbal
    • Visual


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