Which construal level combinations generate the most effective interventions? A field experiment on energy conservation.
ABSTRACT: Many campaigns targeting pro-environmental behavior combine multiple approaches without properly understanding how these different approaches interact. Here we study the effect of such combinations. We apply construal level theory to classify different intervention approaches, which can either be at a high construal level (abstract and distant) or at a low construal level (concrete and proximal). In a field experiment we recruited 197 students living in one-person apartments in an all-inclusive student housing facility. We objectively measured their individual electricity and warm water use, and measured psychological variables through surveys. We expected that the (commonly considered superior) combination between a high and a low construal level approach would be least effective. Participants were randomly assigned to a 2(Construal Level: low vs. high) × 2(Social Distance: low vs. high) plus control condition mixed-model design targeting a reduction in warm water use. Our findings suggest that a congruent combination at a high construal level (i.e., the high construal level condition combined with the high social distance condition) has the largest effect on warm water use and that spillover to electricity use is most likely to occur when a high construal level is used (i.e., high social distance). Moreover, especially participants who valued nature and the environment less were most strongly influenced by the combination of two high construal level approaches. In sum, our study suggests that when designing interventions one should consider the construal level and when targeting pro-environmental behavior high construal levels appear most appropriate.
Project description:The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) is part of the mentalizing network, a set of brain regions consistently engaged in inferring mental states. However, its precise function in this network remains unclear. It has recently been proposed that the dmPFC is involved in high-level abstract (i.e., categorical) identification or construction of both social and non-social stimuli, referred to as "high construal." This was based on the observation of greater activation in the dmPFC shared by a high construal social condition (trait inference based on visually presented behavior) and a high construal non-social condition (categorization of visually presented objects) vs. matched low construal conditions (visual description of the same pictures). However, dmPFC activation has been related to task contexts requiring responses based on self-guided generation of mental content or decisions as compared to responses more directly determined by the experimental context (e.g., free vs. rule-governed choice). The previously reported dmPFC activity may reflect differences in task constraint (i.e., the extent to which the task context guided the process) confounded with the construal manipulation. Therefore, in the present study, we manipulated construal level and constraint independently, while participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). As before, participants visually described (low level construal) or categorized (high level construal) pictures of objects. Orthogonal to this, the description or categorization task had to be performed on either one object (low constraint) or on two objects simultaneously (high constraint), limiting the number of possible responses. Statistical analysis revealed common greater activation in both high construal conditions (high and low constraint) than in their low construal counterparts, replicating the influence of construal level on dmPFC activation (greater involvement in high than low construal), but no influence of constraint. In line with previous proposals and earlier work, we suggest that the dmPFC is involved in high-construal abstraction across different domains.
Project description:The public perception of climate change as abstract and distant may undermine climate action. According to construal level theory, whether a phenomenon is perceived as psychologically distant or close is associated with whether it is construed as abstract or concrete, respectively. Previous work has established a link between psychological distance and climate action, but the associated role of construal level has yet to be explored in depth. In two representative surveys of Australians (<i>N</i> = 217 and <i>N</i> = 216), and one experiment (<i>N</i> = 319), we tested whether construal level and psychological distance from climate change predicted pro-environmental intentions and policy support, and whether manipulating distance and construal increased pro-environmental behaviors such as donations. Results showed that psychological closeness to climate change predicted more engagement in pro-environmental behaviors, while construal level produced inconsistent results, and manipulations of both variables failed to produce increases in pro-environmental behaviors. In contrast with the central tenet of construal level theory, construal level was unrelated to psychological distance in all three studies. Our findings suggest that the hypothesized relationship between construal level and psychological distance may not hold in the context of climate change, and that it may be difficult to change pro-environmental behavior by manipulating these variables.
Project description:The ability to mentally represent future events is a significant human psychological achievement. A challenge that people encounter is that they often lack detailed specifics about distant relative to near future events. Construal level theory proposes that people represent distant future events by their abstract and essential features-a process referred to as high-level construal. As events become temporally proximal, people represent events by their increasingly available and reliable concrete and idiosyncratic features-a process referred to as low-level construal. The present fMRI experiment provides direct neural evidence for these assertions. Using the why-how localizer as a measure of construal level, results revealed brain regions associated with both temporal distance and high-level construal (medial prefrontal cortex), as well as temporal proximity and low-level construal (precuneus). We discuss the implications of these findings for the neuroscience of mental time travel and cognitive representation.
Project description:The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) is consistently involved in tasks requiring the processing of mental states, and much rarer so by tasks that do not involve mental state inferences. We hypothesized that the dmPFC might be more generally involved in high construal of stimuli, defined as the formation of concepts or ideas by omitting non-essential features of stimuli, irrespective of their social or non-social nature. In an fMRI study, we presented pictures of a person engaged in everyday activities (social stimuli) or of objects (non-social stimuli) and induced a higher level of construal by instructing participants to generate personality traits of the person or categories to which the objects belonged. This was contrasted against a lower level task where participants had to describe these same pictures visually. As predicted, we found strong involvement of the dmPFC in high construal, with substantial overlap across social and non-social stimuli, including shared activation in the vmPFC/OFC, parahippocampal, fusiform and angular gyrus, precuneus, posterior cingulate and right cerebellum.
Project description:Episodic future thinking, which refers to the use of prospective imagery to concretely imagine oneself in future scenarios, has been shown to reduce delay discounting (enhance self-control). A parallel approach, in which prospective imagery is used to concretely imagine other's scenarios, may similarly reduce social discounting (i.e., enhance altruism). In study 1, participants engaged in episodic thinking about the self or others, in a repeated-measures design, while completing a social discounting task. Reductions in social discounting were observed as a function of episodic thinking about others, though an interaction with order was also observed. Using an independent-measures design in study 2, the effect of episodic thinking about others was replicated. Study 3 addressed a limitation of studies 1 and 2, the possibility that simply thinking about others decreased social discounting. Capitalizing on Construal Level Theory, which specifies that social distance and time in the future are both dimensions of a common psychological distance, we hypothesized that episodic future thinking should also decrease social discounting. Participants engaged in episodic future thinking or episodic present thinking, in a repeated-measures design, while completing a social discounting task. The pattern of results was similar to study 1, providing support for the notion that episodic thinking about psychologically distant outcomes (for others or in the future) reduces social discounting. Application of similar episodic thinking approaches may enhance altruism.
Project description:Attachment systems facilitate coping with stress, with previous studies demonstrating attachment figures diminishing subjective, behavioral and neural responses to social pain. Yet little is known about the physiological mechanisms governing this benefit in the context of social exclusion. This study investigated the impact of attachment (vs non-attachment) priming on affective and cardiovascular responses to social exclusion induced by the computerized "Cyberball" ball-tossing game, and the moderating influence of individual differences in attachment style, rejection sensitivity and self-construal. No significant change in high frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV)-an index of parasympathetic activity and cardiovagal balance-was observed across the time course in the attachment priming condition, whereas the non-attachment condition showed significant fluctuation in HF-HRV-increasing during Cyberball and decreasing relative to baseline during recovery. Moreover, the benefit afforded by attachment priming on was enhanced amongst participants with lower rejection sensitivity and higher collectivistic self-construal, and those with higher anxious attachment style in the non-attachment prime group showed a trend towards increased HF-HRV during the Cyberball. Results are consistent with Social Baseline Theory, which argues that social proximity-particularly from attachment figures-protects against the metabolic costs associated with strong reactions to stress, including the preservation of cardiovagal homeostasis in this instance. Social attachments may provide an important mechanism to increase adaptive responding to the distressing experience of social exclusion.
Project description:This study reveals that Duchenne (genuine) and non-Duchenne (non-genuine, polite) smiles are implicitly associated with psychological proximity and distance, respectively. These findings link two extensive research streams from human communication and psychology. Interestingly, extant construal-level theory research suggests the link may work as smiles signaling either a benign situation or politeness, resulting in conflicting predictions for the association between smile type and psychological distance. The current study uses implicit association tests to reveal theoretically and empirically consistent non-Duchenne-smile-distance and Duchenne-smile-proximity associations for all four types of psychological distance: temporal, spatial, social, and hypothetical. Practically, the results suggest several useful applications of non-Duchenne smiles in human communication contexts.
Project description:Values, beliefs, and traits differ across individuals, and these concepts might impact whether individuals choose to engage in (dis)honest behavior. This project focuses on interindividual differences in Machiavellianism, which is defined as a tendency toward cynicism and manipulativeness, and the belief that the ends justify the means. We hypothesized that trait Machiavellianism would predict dishonest behavior. Furthermore, we speculated that some situations are more conducive than others for Machiavellianism to translate into behavior. In particular, Construal Level Theory holds that individuals construe social situations on a concrete level, or an abstract level, and that an abstract construal level triggers values and value-related traits to be more influential on behavior. Against this background, we hypothesized that differences in Machiavellianism produce differences in dishonest monetary behavior when situations are construed abstractly. Four studies tested these considerations by asking participants to toss a coin and self-report the toss' outcome. Inconsistent with our theorizing, we did not find that higher Machiavellianism is consistently associated with a higher self-reported probability of receiving an individual bonus. We also did not find consistent support that higher Machiavellianism is associated with cheating under abstract compared to concrete construal.
Project description:The current study tested competing predictions regarding the effect of mortality salience on delay discounting. One prediction, based on evolutionary considerations, was that reminders of death increase the value of the present. Another prediction, based in part on construal level theory, was that reminders of death increase the value of the future. One-hundred eighteen participants thought about personal mortality or a control topic and then completed an inter-temporal choice task pitting the chance to gain $50 now against increasingly attractive rewards three months later. Consistent with the hypothesis inspired by construal theory, participants in the mortality salience condition traded $50 now for $66.67 in three months, whereas participants in the dental pain salience condition required $72.84 in three months in lieu of $50 now. Thus, participants in the mortality salience condition discounted future monetary gains less than other participants, suggesting that thoughts of death may increase the subjective value of the future.
Project description:Social support has been shown to act as a buffer for cardiovascular responses to stress. However, little is known about how social support and networks are related to cardiovascular responses to immigration stress recall. The current study evaluated the impact of structural and functional support on cardiovascular reaction following immigrant stress recall provocation as well as the moderation effect of interdependent self-construal among first-generation Chinese immigrants. One hundred fifty Chinese immigrants were recruited in the New York Chinatown area. Participants completed questionnaires assessing their levels of social support and networks, and interdependent self-construal. Following adaptation, participants recalled a recent post-immigration stress-provoking situation. Cardiovascular measures were taken during adaptation, stressor task, and recovery period. Hierarchical multiple regression analysis was performed. Social network size and type, as well as perceived emotional support were positively predictive of systolic blood pressure (SBP) reactivity changes. Instrumental support seeking was a positive predictor of SBP and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) reactivity. The moderation effect between instrumental support seeking and interdependent self-construal were significantly predictive of DBP reactivity and recovery, suggesting that perceptions about themselves in relation to others is a crucial factor for determining whether support seeking is beneficial or not. Social support was not a direct buffer on cardiovascular responses to stress among Chinese immigrants. Chinese values of interdependence and collectivism may partly explain the disconfirming results. Still, when interdependent self-construal was taken into account, Chinese immigrants who had less interdependent self-construal, but solicited more instrumental support, had faster adaptation to stress over the long term.