Seeing the forest when entry is unlikely: Probability and the mental representation of events

Cheryl J. Wakslak, Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman, Rotem Alony

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conceptualizing probability as psychological distance, the authors draw on construal level theory (Y. Trope & N. Liberman, 2003) to propose that decreasing an event's probability leads individuals to represent the event by its central, abstract, general features (high-level construal) rather than by its peripheral, concrete, specific features (low-level construal). Results indicated that when reported probabilities of events were low rather than high, participants were more broad (Study 1) and inclusive (Study 2) in their categorization of objects, increased their preference for general rather than specific activity descriptions (Study 3), segmented ongoing behavior into fewer units (Study 4), were more successful at abstracting visual information (Study 5), and were less successful at identifying details missing within a coherent visual whole (Study 6). Further, after exposure to low-probability as opposed to high-probability phrases, participants increasingly preferred to identify actions in ends-related rather than means-related terms (Study 7). Implications for probability assessment and choice under uncertainty are discussed. PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)641-653
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2006


  • Abstract
  • Construal level theory
  • Events
  • Likelihood
  • Probability
  • Psychological distance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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