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      Pain here and now: physical pain impairs transcendence of psychological distance

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          The ability to traverse psychological distance by going beyond the experienced reality of the self, here and now, is fundamental for effective human functioning. Yet, little is known about how physical pain affects transcendence of psychological distance. Using a construal level theory framework of psychological distance, the current research examines the hypothesis that pain impairs people’s ability to traverse any kind of psychological distance whether it be temporal, social, and spatial distance, or the hypothetical.


          Using the cold pressor test, 151 participants participated in an experiment where they were either induced with acute pain (treatment group) or no pain (control group) while completing a battery of questions measuring to what extent their current thoughts were transcending psychological distance.


          The results were largely consistent with the hypothesis. Relative to the control group, pain induced participants showed significantly less transcendence of past temporal distance, social distance, spatial distance, and the hypothetical. Furthermore, greater self-reported pain intensity was significantly associated with less transcendence of temporal (past and future), social, and spatial distance.


          Physical pain impairs the ability to traverse psychological distance. The research has practical implications for the pain clinic and for pain-afflicted individuals in everyday life.

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          Most cited references 12

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          Out of Control: Visceral Influences on Behavior

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            Construal levels and self-control.

            The authors propose that self-control involves making decisions and behaving in a manner consistent with high-level versus low-level construals of a situation. Activation of high-level construals (which capture global, superordinate, primary features of an event) should lead to greater self-control than activation of low-level construals (which capture local, subordinate, secondary features). In 6 experiments using 3 different techniques, the authors manipulated construal levels and assessed their effects on self-control and underlying psychological processes. High-level construals led to decreased preferences for immediate over delayed outcomes, greater physical endurance, stronger intentions to exert self-control, and less positive evaluations of temptations that undermine self-control. These results support a construal-level analysis of self-control. Copyright (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved.
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              Traversing psychological distance.

              Traversing psychological distance involves going beyond direct experience, and includes planning, perspective taking, and contemplating counterfactuals. Consistent with this view, temporal, spatial, and social distances as well as hypotheticality are associated, affect each other, and are inferred from one another. Moreover, traversing all distances involves the use of abstraction, which we define as forming a belief about the substitutability for a specific purpose of subjectively distinct objects. Indeed, across many instances of both abstraction and psychological distancing, more abstract constructs are used for more distal objects. Here, we describe the implications of this relation for prediction, choice, communication, negotiation, and self-control. We ask whether traversing distance is a general mental ability and whether distance should replace expectancy in expected-utility theories.

                Author and article information

                J Pain Res
                J Pain Res
                Journal of Pain Research
                Journal of Pain Research
                Dove Medical Press
                11 March 2019
                : 12
                : 961-968
                Department of Psychology, Linnaeus University, 391 82 Kalmar, Sweden, jens.agerstrom@ 123456lnu.se
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Jens Agerström, Department of Psychology, Linnaeus University, Pedalstråket 11, 392 31 Kalmar, Sweden, Tel +46 480 446068, Email jens.agerstrom@ 123456lnu.se
                © 2019 Agerström et al. This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited

                The full terms of this license are available at https://www.dovepress.com/terms.php and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/). By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.

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