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  • Distance makes the mind grow broader: an overview of psychological distance studies in the environmental and health domains

    Environmental and health issues are two of the most pressing issues society faces today. People often view both environmental and health issues as psychologically distant: they believe that the problems will occur in the future, to other people, in other places and that the exact outcomes are uncertain. This paper provides an overview of studies that have investigated how the different psychological distance dimensions (viz., temporal, spatial, social and hypothetical) influence perceptions, intentions, and decision making in the environmental and health domains. This overview suggests that psychological distance indeed matters in both domains. There are indications that threat perceptions are mostly heightened when communicated or perceived as being psychologically close. However, the studies also show that a mere increase in perceived threat does not necessarily alter intentions or behavior. Moreover, with regard to the effects of psychological distance, there are neither clear differences between the environmental and the health domain nor between the four psychological distance dimensions. We discuss possible moderators that may explain the range of findings. Finally, we conclude with discussing the current stance of the literature and discuss specific research topics that are yet to be studied. As environmental and health behavior involve more than just one decision or one behavior, we suggest, for example, that future studies should investigate how psychological distance influences not only the target behavior, but related behavior as well.

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