In another line of work, our lab focuses on social influence as one tool that people use to either immerse themselves in the current context or to transcend it. This research suggests that individuals tune into others’ opinions in fundamentally different ways when relating to near versus distant objects and events. For instance, when people evaluate a policy that will go into effect in the near future, their attitudes tend to reflect those of incidental others in their immediate social environment, which facilitates context-appropriate action and interaction. In contrast, when people consider a policy that will go into effect in the more distant future, their opinions are less susceptible to these momentary social influences, and are instead more likely to reflect broad social norms, group consensus, and ideological values that are consensually shared with long-term significant others and groups. Because these socially shared views tend to be slow-changing and consistently encountered across contexts, tuning into them can help individuals transcend the particularities of the immediate situation and relate to psychologically distant objects and events.
These findings have interesting implications for understanding and predicting when people’s attitudes will shift in response to different kinds of social influence. For instance, they suggest that the time until an election or the distance to a polling location could change whether people’s attitudes toward a political policy are more influenced by a poll that conveys information about group opinion, or by the opinion of a single stranger commenting in an online forum or tweeting to a news station.
Current projects continue to investigate the basic processes underlying these effects, as well as new variables that could impact which sources of social influence guide people’s attitudes. We have also begun to examine the implications of these findings for understanding how to improve decision-making in healthcare contexts and increase reliance on evidence-based medicine.
Ledgerwood, A., Trope, Y., & Chaiken, S. (2010). Flexibility now, consistency later: Psychological distance and construal shape evaluative responding. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 32-51.
Ledgerwood, A., Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2010). Flexibility and consistency in evaluative responding: The function of construal level. In J. M. Olson & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 43 (pp. 257-295). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.