The effects of psychological distance on abstraction: Two meta-analyses

Courtney K. Soderberg*, Shannon P. Callahan, Annie O. Kochersberger, Elinor Amit, Alison Ledgerwood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psychological distance and abstraction both represent key variables of considerable interest to researchers across cognitive, social, and developmental psychology. Moreover, largely inspired by construal level theory, numerous experiments across multiple fields have now connected these 2 constructs, examining how psychological distance affects the level of abstraction at which people mentally represent the world around them. The time is clearly ripe for a quantitative synthesis to shed light on the relation between these constructs and investigate potential moderators. To this end, we conducted 2 meta-analyses of research examining the effects of psychological distance on abstraction and its downstream consequences. Across 106 papers containing a total of 267 experiments, our results showed a reliable and medium-sized effect of psychological distance on both level of abstraction in mental representation and the downstream consequences of abstraction. Importantly, these effects replicate across time, researchers, and settings. Our analyses also identified several key moderators, including the size of the difference in distance between 2 levels of a temporal distance manipulation and the dependent variable's capacity to tap processing of both abstract and concrete features (rather than only one or the other). We discuss theoretical and methodological implications, and highlight promising avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)525-548
Number of pages24
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Construal level
  • Mental representation
  • Meta-analysis
  • Psychological distance
  • Temporal distance


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