Flexibility Now, Consistency Later: Psychological Distance and Construal Shape Evaluative Responding

Researchers have long been interested in understanding the conditions under which evaluations will be more or less consistent or context-dependent. The current research explores this issue by asking when stability or flexibility in evaluative responding would be most useful. Integrating construal level theory with research suggesting that variability in the mental representation of an attitude object can produce fluctuations in evaluative responding, we propose a functional relationship between distance and evaluative flexibility. Because individuals construe psychologically proximal objects more concretely, evaluations of proximal objects will tend to incorporate unique information from the current social context, promoting context-specific responses. Conversely, because more distal objects are construed more abstractly, evaluations of distal objects will be less context-dependent. Consistent with this reasoning, the results of 4 studies suggest that when individuals mentally construe an attitude object concretely, either because it is psychologically close or because they have been led to adopt a concrete mindset, their evaluations flexibly incorporate the views of an incidental stranger. However, when individuals think about the same issue more abstractly, their evaluations are less susceptible to incidental social influence and instead reflect their previously reported ideological values. These findings suggest that there are ways of thinking that will tend to produce more or less variability in mental representation across contexts, which in turn shapes evaluative consistency. Connections to shared reality, conformity, and attitude function are discussed.

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APA-Format Citation

Ledgerwood, A., Trope, Y., & Chaiken, S. (2010). Flexibility now, consistency later: Psychological distance and construal shape evaluative responding. Journal of personality and social psychology, 99(1), 32.