What Happens Why? Psychological Distance and Focusing on Causes Versus Consequences of Events

When do people focus more on the causes versus the consequences of events, and how does differential focus affect downstream judgments and choices? Building on construal level theory (Trope & Liberman, 2010), we propose a bidirectional relationship between psychological distance and causal focus, such that distance (vs. proximity) leads to a greater focus on causes (vs. consequences), and likewise, focusing on causes (vs. consequences) leads to greater estimates of psychological distance from events. This should be the case because causes are features of events that are more high-level relative to consequences (as shown in Experiments 1 and 2). We demonstrate that temporal (Experiment 3) and social (Experiment 4) distances lead to a greater tendency to focus on the causes (vs. consequences) of events and that, conversely, thinking about causes (vs. consequences) leads to greater perceptions of temporal (Experiment 5) and spatial (Experiment 6) distances from events. Additionally, we explored some downstream effects of this distance-dependent focus on causes versus consequences for predictive judgments, experiences, and behavioral choice (Experiments 7, 8, and 9). Broader implications of the results for moral decision making, power and leadership, and self-regulation are discussed.

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APA-Format Citation

Rim, S., Hansen, J., & Trope, Y. (2013). What happens why? Psychological distance and focusing on causes versus consequences of events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.