Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Quick Studies

distance

(Photo: ollyy/Shutterstock)

You Feel Closer to Your Destination Even When You’re Not

• April 11, 2014 • 4:33 PM

(Photo: ollyy/Shutterstock)

Simply moving toward or away from something alters the way you think about it, according to a new study.

If there’s one thing science is good at, it’s showing us how things we do every day affect the way we think and feel about the world in ways we’d never imagine. Take, for example, moving around. You probably wouldn’t expect the simple act of getting closer or further away from a place changes your perspective on that place very much, if at all. But, according to a new study, it totally does.

Sam Maglio and Evan Polman, of the University of Toronto and University of Wisconsin-Madison, respectively, recently hit the streets of Toronto and Vancouver and interviewed pedestrians at strategically chosen subway stops, crosswalks, and a mall. Their questions gauged people’s feelings of proximity to things based on the direction they were headed. Over five studies, which tested both physical and emotional senses of closeness, they arrived at some surprising results:

  • Where you’re headed seems closer than the place you’ve left. People waiting for eastbound and westbound trains consistently rated the stops they were going toward as seemingly closer than the stops they were moving away from, regardless of the actual distance.
  • You think things are more likely to happen ahead of you. When interviewed at a major intersection halfway between two separate Starbucks locations, people estimated coffee orders were messed up more often at whichever Starbucks they happened to be walking toward. Similarly, people assumed someone would be more likely to win the lottery if they were headed toward where a drawing would be held.
  • You feel more similar to people moving toward you. People in Toronto who imagined someone at Los Angeles International Airport felt more connected to that person if he or she was departing on a plane to Chicago (which is on the way to Toronto) rather than arriving from Chicago and hailing a cab back to their home somewhere in L.A.

While the strength of these effects varied based on the type of distance measured—physical closeness versus psychological—Maglio and Polman believe the studies’ overall trend of movement affecting our perceptions contributes to an increasingly dynamic picture of how we interact with the world.

“People move around their environments, constantly going closer to some things and farther from others,” Maglio says in a press release. In the study, which is forthcoming in Psychological Science, he and Polman write, “If spatial orientation toward a place, person, or event causes it to feel closer in physical space, it should cause similar feelings of closeness on [other] dimensions of distance as well.”

Ultimately, the study is a lesson on how even our most basic senses often are influenced by our surroundings, even when we’re totally unaware of it.

“A person who happens to stumble onto a subway platform with no expectation of hopping aboard any train should feel equally far from westward and eastward locations,” the researchers write. “However, ask this wayward soul about passengers aboard a train headed toward his station, and he should feel closer to them than people cruising in the opposite direction.”

Paul Bisceglio
Editorial Fellow Paul Bisceglio was previously an editorial intern at Smithsonian magazine and a staff reporter at Manhattan Media. He is a graduate of Haverford College and completed a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Warwick in Coventry, United Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter @PaulBisceglio.

More From Paul Bisceglio

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.