The basic idea
We have received a four-year grant from the Swedish Research Council to replicate key findings underpinning construal level theory (CLT). The project takes a multi-lab approach and is placed at and led by researchers at the Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg.
Why replicate key findings from the CLT literature?
CLT is a framework to explain when and why the mind represents events and objects in more concrete or abstract terms. It is a highly influential theory in social psychology (the review article by Trope & Liberman, 2010, has received over 3500 citations). However, despite a recent meta-analysis by Soderberg and colleagues (2015) reporting a medium sized effect in support of the theory’s central claim, a critical reading of this meta-analysis suggests that this estimate may be exaggerated. For instance, most studies have very small sample sizes (median N = 48) and there are signs of potential publication bias. The popularity of this theory—particularly its growing influence in applied research areas—requires accurate estimates of effect sizes, so that future research can be planned in a sound manner. The current multi-lab project will result in large sample sizes which will put us in a good position of calculating precise effect size estimates. Rather than replicating a single empirical finding, our aim is to subject CLT to multiple testing from different angles. As such, assuming the key findings replicate to some extent, will uncover important boundary conditions to the theory.
What does construal level theory propose?
In short, CLT suggests that objects and events that are more psychologically distant from the individual will be represented more abstractly compared to objects and events that are psychologically close. Furthermore, CLT suggests four forms of psychological distance: temporal, spatial, social, and likelihood. Things that are perceived as closer in time and space, people that are perceived as more socially close, and events that are perceived as more likely of occurring, should be construed in relatively concrete terms.
What experiments will we conduct?
For the first study, we’ll conduct four experiments. Each one will examine one of the four proposed types of psychological distance: one temporal study, one spatial study, one social study, and one likelihood study. All four experiments will use a between-groups experimental design with psychological distance (close vs. distant) as the independent variable, and the Behavioral Identification Form (BIF; Vallacher & Wegner, 1987) as dependent measure. Note that the selection of studies differs from earlier study plans which is due to our own failed attempts to validate dependent variables used in previous CLT studies. Read more about this validation study at the end of the page.*
Temporal distance: Liberman, N., & Trope, Y. (1998). The role of feasibility and desirability considerations in near and distant future decisions: A test of temporal construal theory. Journal of personality and social psychology, 75(1) We plan to conduct a close replication of Experiment 1.
Spatial distance: Fujita, K., Henderson, M., Eng, J., Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2006). Spatial distance and mental construal of social events. Psychological Science, 14, 278-282. We plan to conduct a close replication of Experiment 1.
For social distance and likelihood, we have designed new experiments using the same basic design as the two studies mentioned above.
How will the data collection be carried out?
Each lab will collect data for each of the four studies. Each session will take around 20-30 minutes per participant (though participants can be tested in groups, provided that they cannot interact with or distract each other). All the studies will be administered on a computer using a lab-specific URL that we will provide to each lab. Each participant will be randomly allocated to one of the four experiments (i.e., temporal distance, spatial distance, social distance, or likelihood) as well as to one of the two experimental conditions (i.e., high and low psychological distance). This amounts to 8 experimental cells in total. Each lab should contribute with a minimum of around 12 participants in each of the 8 cells of the study (approximately 100 participants in total).
For the sake of experimental control, data collections should take place in the lab. Exceptions (i.e., data collection online) will be permitted only after the lab has first consulted with the CLIMR coordinators. However, in such situations a local sample should nonetheless be used (e.g., a university subject pool). That is, it is not permissible to use crowdsourcing platforms such as MTurk or Prolific Academic.
* Validation study of dependent variables
We conducted a validation study of dependent variables used in previous CLT studies using an online sample (N = 1200). In brief, we used the same designs as earlier CLT studies that we had planned to replicate, but instead of manipulating psychological distance, we directly manipulated construal level by asking people to imagine the events in either concrete or abstract terms. In total, we tested three DVs: the Behavioral Identification Form (BIF); a segmentation task; and a categorization task. Only the BIF seemed to work. The other two DVs showed no effect of the direct manipulation of construal level, and in fact showed trends in the opposite direction of what was expected. For details of how we conducted the validation study see https://osf.io/kgrs9/ and for all the results see https://osf.io/q67zy/.
Based on these results, we decided to remove the following three previously included experiments from the study plan:
– Wakslak, Trope, Liberman, & Alony, 2006, Study 1
– Liberman, Sagristano, Trope, 2002, Study 1
– Henderson, Fujita, Trope, & Liberman, 2006, Study 1
Read more about CLT:
Soderberg, C. K., Callahan, S. P., Kochersberger, A. O., Amit, E., & Ledgerwood, A. (2015). The effects of psychological distance on abstraction: Two meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 141(3), 525-548.
Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2010). Construal-level theory of psychological distance. Psychological Review, 117(2), 440-463.