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Perception of Distance Impacts Judgment

Perception of Distance Impacts JudgmentNew research suggests that a person’s orientation can change the way we think of something.

For example, why does the second hour of a journey seem shorter than the first?

Sam Maglio, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, performed a series of six studies to determine that a person’s orientation — the direction they are headed — changed how they thought of an object or event.

The research is forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science.

“Feeling close to or distant from something impacts our behavior and judgment,” Maglio said.

“We feel more socially connected, more emotionally engaged, and more attuned to the present when something is perceived as close.”

“What we don’t know is what leads to a feeling of closeness,” he said. “Previous studies have focused on changing objective measures, such as distance or time, to make something feel subjectively close or far.”

“But people move around their environments, constantly going closer to some things and farther from others,” said Maglio. “We wanted to see if this movement changed how people perceived their surroundings.”

Using everyday locations and objects such as subway stations, lottery draws, and Starbucks drinks, Maglio and Evan Polman, Ph.D., (University of Wisconsin-Madison) found that people heading in a certain direction considered the places ahead to be physically nearer than those behind, although the actual distance was the same.

People also felt events that occurred in the direction they were headed happened more recently and that those events would be more likely to occur.

Interestingly, the feeling of closeness occurred regardless of whether events were good or bad. Strangers who were coming towards participants were thought to be more similar to themselves than when those same strangers were headed away.

Maglio said the research supports previous findings showing that something that feels close in one way, such as physical distance, will also feel close in time, probability, and social similarity.

“That’s why a phrase such as ‘A long time ago in a distant land’ makes more intuitive sense than in a nearby land.’”

According to Maglio, this research could potentially impact business, such as retail.

“Firms that induce a sense of orientation towards the customer might be able to create psychological closeness and connection,” he said.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Perception of Distance Impacts Judgment

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Perception of Distance Impacts Judgment. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Apr 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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