The social side of abstraction: psychological distance enhances conformity to group norms

Psychol Sci. 2012 Aug 1;23(8):907-13. doi: 10.1177/0956797611435920. Epub 2012 Jun 20.


Intuition suggests that a distanced or abstract thinker should be immune to social influence, and on its surface, the current literature could seem to support this view. The present research builds on recent theorizing to suggest a different possibility. Drawing on the notion that psychological distance regulates the extent to which evaluations incorporate context-specific or context-independent information, we suggest that psychological distance should actually increase susceptibility to sources of social influence that tend to be consistently encountered across contexts, such as group norms. Consistent with this hypothesis, two studies showed that psychological distance and abstraction increased conformity to group opinion and that this effect persisted in a novel voting-booth paradigm in which participants believed their voting behavior was both anonymous and consequential. We discuss implications of these findings for understanding the social side of abstraction as well as the conditions under which different types of social influence are likely to be most influential.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Distance*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Conformity*
  • Social Environment