Controllable Objects Seem Closer

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More and more we interact with other people across varying amounts of geographical distance. What shapes our categorization of a fixed amount of such distance as near or far? Building upon and expanding prior work on the association between spatial distance perception and reachability, we argue that people judge a given geographical distance as subjectively smaller when they can exert control across that distance. Studies 1–4 demonstrate this effect of control on spatial distance judgment in disparate contexts, including political, work, and family domains, and explore implications of such judgments for the downstream judgment of travel time to a location (Study 2). We do not find that one’s desire for control moderates these effects (Study 4). Supporting a cognitive association argument, we find evidence that the association between control and distance is bidirectional, with subjective distance influencing perceived controllability (Study 5). Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

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