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Review
, 322 (5905), 1201-5

The Psychology of Transcending the Here and Now

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Review

The Psychology of Transcending the Here and Now

Nira Liberman et al. Science.

Abstract

People directly experience only themselves here and now but often consider, evaluate, and plan situations that are removed in time or space, that pertain to others' experiences, and that are hypothetical rather than real. People thus transcend the present and mentally traverse temporal distance, spatial distance, social distance, and hypotheticality. We argue that this is made possible by the human capacity for abstract processing of information. We review research showing that there is considerable similarity in the way people mentally traverse different distances, that the process of abstraction underlies traversing different distances, and that this process guides the way people predict, evaluate, and plan near and distant situations.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Bruegel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus represents an intriguing mixture of high-level, abstract features, and low-level, concrete features.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Two examples of incongruent visual stimuli: a word denoting social proximity, “us,” located far from the observer, and a word denoting social remoteness, “them,” located near the observer. Because spatial distance is associated with temporal distance, social distance, and hypotheticality, participants are slower to indicate the location of the arrow and to identify the word on it with incongruent stimuli than with congruent stimuli [“us” located near the observer and “them” located far from the observer (6)].
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Items from the Gestalt Completion Test (11). Identifying the pictures (from top-right to bottom left: a boat, a rider on a horse, a rabbit, a baby) requires visual abstraction. Participants were better at identifying pictures that they believed were sample items of a more distant future task (12) or a less likely task (13).

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