Response category width as a psychophysical manifestation of construal level and distance


The present research suggests that people adjust their mental response scales to an object’s distance and construal level. People make use of wider response categories when they judge distant and abstract as compared with close and concrete stimuli. Across five experiments, participants worked on visual and verbal estimation problems (e.g., length or quantity judgments). Answers were provided in interval format, and differences between minimal and maximal estimates served as a measure of response category width. When target objects were framed as spatially distant rather than close (Studies 1 and 3), as unlikely rather than likely (Study 2), and as abstract rather than concrete (Study 4), category widths increased. Similarly, priming a high-level rather than a low-level mindset yielded wider interval estimates (Study 5). The general discussion highlights the usefulness of category width as a basic measure of construal level and as a theoretical link between various branches of construal-level theory.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 501-512