construal level theory my way

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on June 12, 2013

Many seem to be confused by my use of construal level theory, the concepts of near and far. So this post is meant to clear things up. I see near mode and far mode as summarizing the psychological adaptations for navigating various domains of reality. Far mode is meant for human ideals, near mode for everything else.

This is not how the construal level theory researchers see it. To them it is about something called “psychological distance” and something called “construal level”. Quoting Trope and Liberman:

The fact that something happened long ago does not necessarily mean that it took place far away, that it occurred to a stranger, or that it is improbable. Nevertheless, as the research reviewed here demonstrates, there is marked commonality in the way people respond to the different distance dimensions.

the various distances are cognitively related to each other, such that thinking of an event as distant on one dimension leads one to thinking about it as distant on other dimensions

remote locations should bring to mind the distant rather than the near future, other people rather than oneself, and unlikely rather than likely events.

“having fun,” compared with “playing basketball outside,” may bring to mind activities in the more distant future and past, in more remote locations, in hypothetical situations, and with more socially distant others.

construing another person’s behavior in terms of a personality trait (a high-level construct) involves considering that person’s behavior in the past and future, in other places, and in hypothetical situations.

More generally, forming and comprehending abstract concepts enable people to mentally transcend the currently experienced object in time and space, integrating other social perspectives, and considering novel and hypothetical examples.

Note that the quote describes the empirical phenomenon whereas the concepts of “psychological distance” and “construal level” are their explanations for that observation.

Now in psychology there are all sorts of process-based theories and they are almost all bullshit. So I highly suspect “psychological distance” or “construal level” is bullshit as well. The most productive psychological theories I find focus on what humans are trying to achieve when they behave in a certain away, as opposed to those theories which focus on psychological processes.

So I honestly don’t care about much of the content of construal level theory. I am more interested in the phenomena they are trying to explain. And I explain it not with a theory of process but a theory of purpose.

Far mode is meant to deal with ideals. Near mode deals with everything else.

To take an example among the ones in the quote above.

“having fun,” compared with “playing basketball outside,” may bring to mind activities in the more distant future and past, in more remote locations, in hypothetical situations, and with more socially distant others.

Construal level theory says that “having fun” is “psychologically distant” and evokes a more abstract/higher “construal level” than does “playing basketball outside” and this is why it leads to people thinking of more remote locations, hypothetical situations, socially distant others, etc. Well, that might or might not be true, and I don’t care which. “Fun” is not something you pursue in the abstract, not at all (Trope & Liberman would spin here some story about how one has one’s life goal of “having fun” and satisfies this abstract goal with the concrete action of “playing basketball outside”, which is bullshit). “Fun” is a story you tell about yourself playing basketball. As a fun loving person, you like to travel to exotic locations, and you have an active imagination, and are eager to meet new people, etc. etc. And what is playing basketball? Anything else other than all that storytelling of ideals. Anything else.


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  1. […] is it? In my previous post on construal level theory, I proposed an alternative explanation for the empirical finding of the […]

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