Guide The Development and Meaning of Psychological Distance

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The fourth type is when children are asked to repeat standard words and they respond with their own equivalent word. Children transition into normal speech when the words they use become symbols instead of signals. For example, Helen Keller was often told of what the word w-a-t-e-r represented by her teacher Miss Sullivan. It was not until she placed her hand under the spout that she was able to understand what the word water meant. The development of dialogue allows children to understand the difference between their thoughts and another's.

Psychological development

The psychological distance is the difference in these thoughts. In turn, psychological distancing allows for greater psychological complexity such as allowing for the representation of motivation , multiple meanings, invention, intention, deceit, and lying. Werner and Kaplan's work was later expanded by the pioneer in deaf-blind patient therapy, Dr. Van Dijk , and later refined by the work of Dr. Susan Bruce. At first, responses may be simple repetitions of pleasurable acts, but eventually events that take place in the present tense are replaced in the subject's mind with more complicated concepts, such as desires, requests, or other expressions which reflect symbolic cognition and understanding of past events.

As the subject progresses through these stages, he is eventually able to move from communicating his desires simply as in early childhood to more complicated treatment of symbols in communication.

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Once the communication barrier is removed, more conventional therapies and educational methodologies are then possible. Kaplan and Wiley also use psychological distancing to describe dreaming and schizophrenia states. During dreaming, the distance between an individual to others, words, and objects they are referring to decreases.

With decreasing distance between words and what they are referring to, the words begin to carry the object of reference. As a result, polysemy is riddled throughout dream speech as individuals merge imagery and gestures together. Schizophrenia is an extreme shrinkage of psychological distance because the waking individual is no longer able to discern the difference between themselves and others, referential object and symbolic vehicle. The decrease in distance between the schizophrenia patient and the object of reference causes these individuals to believe that the objects are an extension of themselves reflecting the person's emotions.

Self-distancing occurs when an individual views their experience as an observer. In contrast to self-distancing, self-immersed individuals recall events in first-person. Current research has shown that self-immersed individuals experience increased activity in emotional , autobiographical memory recall, and self-reflecting neural networks in the brain such as the medial prefrontal cortex , and brodmann area 10 BA Overactivation of the BA25 has been linked to depression.


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A self-distanced perspective can be adopted spontaneously and has been shown to negatively correlate with emotional reactivity. Individuals adopting a self-distanced perspective were also shown to be able to reconstrue and derive meaning from negative events as opposed to simply recalling the play-by-play details of what occurred in the memory.

Moreover, it has been shown to promote wise reasoning about interpersonal [8] [9] and political conflicts, attenuating polarized attitudes toward outgroup members, [10] and fostering intellectual humility, open-mindedness, and empathy over time. Rumination is when a person continues to focus on the causes and consequences of their stress. Studies have indicated that rumination delays the amount of time it takes for a person to recover from negative events physiologically because they are continually reliving their past experiences.


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This suggests that self-distancing may impact physical- health as well. The term distancing is also applied as an attachment style. Attachment theory is a theory describing the formation of emotional bonds between people and the effects of a person's attachment history on emotion regulation and other aspects of personality.

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Studies have shown that a person's attachment style secure, anxious, or avoidant becomes stable with age. Attachment style is assessed by what kind of insecurity an individual has, either through attachment-related anxiety or attachment-related avoidance distancing. Secure individuals, those with low levels of anxiety and avoidance, cope well with stress because they seek support from trusted attachment figures or use mental depictions of support from the past.

Insecure individuals, those with high levels of anxiety or avoidance, do not feel as confident in the availability and responsiveness of others. In a neuro-physiological study, it was found that both anxious and avoidant individuals activate the ACC and MPFC regions when told not to think about an event. Anxiety individuals also had lower levels of activation in the SCC and the LPFC areas, in line with previous studies, which have shown a decrease in blood flow to prefrontal areas during task-induced deactivation.

This is comparable to behavioral studies in which these individuals failed to maintain suppression when under cognitive load such as remembering seven numbers as opposed to the non-avoidant people who could maintain suppression. Distance also has temporal , spatial , social , and probabilistic dimensions. For example, increased distance between words and what they refer in terms of time and space allows for mental travel into the past and future.

As the distance widens children are able to comprehend location , past , present and future. Additionally, being able to look backwards and forwards in time allows for the formation of basic cognition such as prediction , evaluation , and action. The dimensions of distancing move together, as people remember events from the past also have a unified sense of distance in the future.

Participants that read a formal description of an event perceive that the event will happen in the future, implying spatial distance. Probabilistically, people anticipate common occurrence to occur to those close to them as opposed to rare circumstances. Conversely, when people rated their direct boss, concrete feedback and mentoring improved job satisfaction. Subsequent research supported this theory. How can you apply this at your office? You can start with your mentoring program. Pairing mentees with mentors close in rank provides the opportunity for concrete feedback, Halevy notes.

While leaders can serve as role models to younger employees and offer a big picture view of the company, he cautions that they might not be able to provide specific feedback on job performance. In addition, research suggests employees are more receptive to guidance provided by someone closer to them in psychological distance.

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