Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Leaf Van Boven

Second Advisor

Bernadette Park

Third Advisor

Scott Ortman

Fourth Advisor

Matt Jones

Fifth Advisor

Lawrence Williams


Psychological distance is the sense of how close or far objects and events are from the present. We conceptualize psychological distance as shaped by the subjective experiences that coincide with movement through physical space, including simulational fluency, or how easily people mentally simulate temporally distal events, and locomotion, or movement, either conceptual or physical, from one state to another. The results of eight studies demonstrate that simulational fluency and locomotion reduce psychological distance. Simulational fluency was associated with psychological distance for future and past events controlling for estimated objective distance and other subjective experiences that have been shown to influence psychological distance in past research (Studies 1a and 1b). Experimentally facilitating simulational fluency by asking people to write brief descriptions of an event reduced the event’s psychological distance (Study 2). Experimentally decreasing simulational fluency by asking people to write long, effortful descriptions of an event increased that event’s psychological distance compared with people who generated shorter descriptions (Study 3)—an effect that did not emerge among people who simply read short versus long descriptions. Engaging in a “why” and a “how” manipulation of construal level (cf. Freitas, Gollwitzer, & Trope, 2004) for a past event increased simulational fluency and decreased psychological distance to that event compared to a no writing control condition, suggesting that the effect of simulational fluency on psychological distance is independent of level of construal (Study 4). Increasing simulational fluency by playing music associated with a future event reduced that event’s psychological distance (Study 5). Trait locomotion was associated with reduced psychological distance to past and future events (Study 6). A manipulation of state locomotion (cf., Manetti et al., 2009; Kruglanski, Thompson, & Higgins, 2000) reduced psychological distance to a future event (Study 7). Finally, a manipulation of physical movement—walking toward an object versus walking away from an object—reduced social, spatial, and temporal psychological distance (Study 8). We discuss implications for theories of psychological distance and its role in everyday life.