Social Learning Across Psychological Distance


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Abstract

While those we learn from are often close to us, more and more our learning environments are shifting to include more distant and dissimilar others. The question we examine in 5 studies is how whom we learn from influences what we learn and how what we learn influences from whom we choose to learn it. In Study 1, we show that social learning, in and of itself, promotes higher level (more abstract) learning than does learning based on one’s own direct experience. In Studies 2 and 3, we show that when people learn from and emulate others, they tend to do so at a higher level when learning from a distant model than from a near model. Studies 4 and 5 show that thinking about learning at a higher (compared to a lower) level leads individuals to expand the range of others that they will consider learning from. Study 6 shows that when given an actual choice, people prefer to learn low-level information from near sources and high-level information from distant sources. These results demonstrate a basic link between level of learning and psychological distance in social learning processes.

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