Communicating With Distant Others: The Functional Use of Abstraction

Priyanka D. Joshi, Cheryl J. Wakslak, Medha Raj, Yaacov Trope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We introduce the construct of relational scope to refer to the degree to which an individual engages in communication with a more or less distant audience, with a contractive relational scope indicating a near audience and an expansive relational scope indicating a distant audience. Drawing on construal level theory, we argue that speakers use abstract messages strategically when faced with an expansive relational scope in order to be widely relevant and relatable. We show that speakers communicate more abstractly with distant others than near others (Studies 1–3) and experience greater fit when message framing matches audience distance (Study 4). We also demonstrate that framing messages abstractly prompts broader relational scope, with speakers more likely to direct concrete (abstract) messages to near (distal) audiences (Study 5). Finally, we show that when procedural information is critical to communication, communication with distant (vs. proximal) others will increasingly emphasize procedures over end states (Study 6).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-44
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • audience characteristics
  • communication
  • construal level theory
  • psychological distance
  • relational scope

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Communicating With Distant Others: The Functional Use of Abstraction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this