Psychological distance reduces literal imitation: Evidence from an imitation-learning paradigm

Jochim Hansen, Hans Alves, Yaacov Trope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present experiments tested the hypothesis that observers engage in more literal imitation of a model when the model is psychologically near to (vs. distant from) the observer. Participants learned to fold a dog out of towels by watching a model performing this task. Temporal (Experiment 1) and spatial (Experiment 2) distance from the model were manipulated. As predicted, participants copied more of the model's specific movements when the model was near (vs. distant). Experiment 3 replicated this finding with a paper-folding task, suggesting that distance from a model also affects imitation of less complex tasks. Perceived task difficulty, motivation, and the quality of the end product were not affected by distance. We interpret the findings as reflecting different levels of construal of the model's performance: When the model is psychologically distant, social learners focus more on the model's goal and devise their own means for achieving the goal, and as a result show less literal imitation of the model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-330
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Construal level
  • Emulation
  • Imitation
  • Psychological distance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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