Agents must sometimes decide whether to exploit a known resource or search for potentially more profitable options. Here, we investigate the role of psychological distancing in promoting exploratory behavior. We argue that exploration dilemmas pit the value of a reward (“desirability”) against the difficulty or uncertainty of obtaining it (“feasibility”). Based on construal level theory, which suggests that psychological distance increases the importance of rewards’ desirability (vs. feasibility), we expect that psychological distance will increase exploration. Four experiments support this prediction. In Experiment 1, participants who were prompted to consider an exploration game from a physically distanced perspective were more likely to leave a local maximum in search of a global maximum. Experiments 2 and 3 show that social distance has similar results. Experiment 4 finds evidence of a direct association between construal mind-set and exploration. Overall, this research highlights how psychological distancing strategies can promote exploration.
- construal level
- psychological distance