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Acta Psychologica Sinica    2014, Vol. 46 Issue (9) : 1317-1330     DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.01317
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The Absence of the Automatic Association between Behavioral Representation Level and Psychological Distance: Evidence from a Picture-word Stroop Task
ZHANG Feng1;SHEN Zhimei1,2
(1 Department of Psychology, Ningbo University, Ningbo 315211, China) (2 Ningbo Human Resources Service Center, Ningbo 315012, China)
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Abstract  

Previous researches (Liviatan, Trope, & Liberman, 2008; Niu, Jiang, Qiu, Shen, & Zhang, 2010; Shen, Jiang, Zhong, Niu, & Zhang, 2010; Wakslak, Liberman, Nussbaum, & Trope, 2008; Zhang, Shen, Zhong, Niu, & Qiu, 2011) have revealed a string of consistent findings that the construal level of both oneself’s and others’ behaviors increases along with the extension of the psychological distance, thus supporting the notion that the Construal-level Theory (Trope & Liberman, 2003; Liberman, Trope, & Stephan, 2007; Liberman & Trope, 2008; Trope & Liberman, 2010; Shapira, Liberman, Trope, & Rim, 2012) can as well explain the association between behavioral representation levels and psychological distance during the social interactions. However, is this effect the product of the consciously controlled process, or is it also the result of an unconscious automatic process? In the current study, we investigated the nature of association between the behavioral representation levels and psychological distance, in an effort to advance the understanding of the psychological distance effect on behavioral representation levels. Based on the Construal-level Theory, we hypothesize that if the psychological distance effect on behavioral representation levels is the result of the unconscious automatic process, that is, if the high-level and the low-level construals of behavioral information are unconsciously associated with distal versus proximate psychologically distances respectively, then the activating distal psychologically distances can probably enhance the process of representing the evaluations for the trait-behavioral information in high-level construals and accordingly suppress the process in the low-level construals representing the evaluations for the act-behavioral information, and vice versa. Conversely, if there is no significant difference on respective recognition speeds of evaluations on trait and action behavioral information, then the psychological distance effect on behavioral representation levels is not the product of the unconscious automatic process, instead, it may be the result of a consciously controlled process; neither there is any automatic association between the two factors. To examine this hypothesis, the present study adopted a picture-word Stroop paradigm to investigate the mechanism of the automatic association between various dimensions of psychological distance (e.g. spatial distance, temporal distance, social distance, and hypotheticality) in human cognitive systems (Bar-Anan, Liberman, Trope, & Algom, 2007). Two separate experiments were conducted to explore the association between the behavioral representation levels and psychological distances. In Experiment 1, there were 10 abstract trait words (Extraversion: conversable, lively; Agreeableness: kindhearted, modest; responsibility: faithful, conscientious; Neuroticism: moody, calm; Openness: curious, keen) from "Big Five" Personality and 10 corresponding specific action words (Extraversion: josh, hearty-laugh; Agreeableness: to help, to ask for advice; Responsibility: to repay loan, to study intensively; Neuroticism: dispute, to introspect; Openness: to probe, to penetrate) embedded within the arrow pointing to a specific location (either near or distant) in a landscape photograph with clear depth cues. Participants were asked to judge the part of speech of each word (adjective or verb) in the arrow and meanwhile ignore the arrow’s spatial location. In Experiment 2, four sets of trait-action word pairs including lively/josh (Experiment 2a), modest/to ask for advice (Experiment 2b), kindhearted/to help (Experiment 2c) and faithful/to repay loan (Experiment 2d), were adopted to be the sample stimuli and were embedded within the arrow pointing to a specific location (either near or distant) in a landscape photograph with clear depth cues. Participants were asked to judge the each word embedded in the arrow and ignore the arrow’s spatial location. All words in the experiments were Chinese two-character words. The results showed that: (1) No matter responding to the part of speech (Experiment 1) or the naming (Experiment 2) of the target words, participants’ reaction times were not affected, hence the process of different construal-level words was not influenced by differed spatial distances. (2) Participants responded to both the part of speech (Experiment 1) and the semantic meaning (Experiment 2) significantly faster when the target words (no matter they were trait words or act words) were presented in distal locations than when they were presented in proximate locations. Based on these results, we suggest that there is no automatic association between the behavioral representation levels and psychological distances, and the psychological distance effect on behavioral representation levels may be the product of a consciously controlled process. Moreover, the possible mechanism that participants’ performance on the behavioral evaluative words is largely dependent on a distal spatial distance has been discussed.

Corresponding Authors: ZHANG Feng, E-mail: zhangfeng@nbu.edu.cn   
Issue Date: 25 September 2014
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ZHANG Feng;SHEN Zhimei. The Absence of the Automatic Association between Behavioral Representation Level and Psychological Distance: Evidence from a Picture-word Stroop Task[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica,2014, 46(9): 1317-1330.
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http://journal.psych.ac.cn/xlxb/EN/10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.01317     OR     http://journal.psych.ac.cn/xlxb/EN/Y2014/V46/I9/1317
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