Construing hypotheticals: How hypotheticality affects level of abstraction

Guy Grinfeld, Cheryl Wakslak, Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans have developed a unique ability to think about hypothetical events (imagined, fictional, improbable events) and to distinguish them from real events (directly experienced, factual, certain events). We examined how people mentally construe events that are more and less hypothetical. In six pre-registered studies (N = 1605) participants completed the Behavioral Identification Form, in which they chose between abstract and concrete action descriptions. We found that participants preferred to describe more hypothetical actions by their abstract goals and less hypothetical actions by their concrete means when the more and the less hypothetical actions were contrasted, but not in the absence of such contrast. We discuss potential difficulties of manipulating hypotheticality and suggest how to overcome them. We also discuss the nature of hypotheticality and how it is both similar to and different from other psychological distances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104543
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • Abstraction
  • Construal level theory
  • Hypotheticality
  • Mental representation
  • Psychological distance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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