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The notion of psychological distance in psychology has a number of connotations as it is used broadly. It may refer to real physical distance, as it is reflected psychologically or to mental distances within a cognitive space in which concepts are held in dimensions of for example Dissimilarity, seperateness etc [1]

In perceptionEdit

It may refer to the physical distance between a stimulus and a source and the psychophysical distance involved. So for example in an optical illusion the psychological distance experienced may differ from the actual distances measures.

Personal spaceEdit

Main article: personal space

Social spaceEdit

Main article: Social distance

Social distance describes the distance between different groups of society and is opposed to locational distance. The notion includes all differences such as social class, race/ethnicity or sexuality, but also the fact that the different groups do not mix. The term is often applied in cities, but its use is not limited to that.

In the sociological literature, the concept of social distance is conceptualized in several different ways.[2]

  1. Affective social distance: One widespread conception of social distance focuses on affectivity. According to this approach, social distance is associated with affective distance, i.e. how much or little sympathy the members of a group feel for another group. Emory Bogardus, the creator of "Bogardus social distance scale" was typically basing his scale on this subjective-affective conception of social distance: ‘‘[i]n social distance studies the center of attention is on the feeling reactions of persons toward other persons and toward groups of people.’’[3]
  2. Normative social distance: A second approach views social distance as a normative category. Normative social distance refers to the widely accepted and often consciously expressed norms about who should be considered as an "insider" and who an "outsider/foreigner." Such norms, in other words, specify the distinctions between "us" and "them." In this respect, normative social distance is very different from affective social distance, because here social distance is conceived as a non-subjective, structural aspect of social relations. Examples of this conception can be found in some of the works of sociologists such as Georg Simmel, Emile Durkheim and to some extent Robert Park.
  3. Interactive social distance: A third conceptualization of social distance focuses on the frequency and intensity of interactions between two groups. The main idea here is that the more the members of two groups interact, the closer they are socially. This conception is similar to the approaches in sociological network theory, where the frequency of interaction between two parties is used as a measure of the "strength" of the social tie between them.

It is possible to view these different conceptions as "dimensions" of social distance. However, it is important to note that these dimensions do not necessarily overlap. The members of two groups might interact with each other quite frequently, but this does not always mean that they will feel "close" to each other or that normatively they will consider each other as the members of the same group. In other words, interactive, normative and affective dimensions of social distance might not be linearly associated.[2]

In personal construct theoryEdit

Main article: personal construct theory

George Kelly suggested that people develop constructs as internal ideas of reality in order to understand the world around them. They are based on our interpretations of our observations and experiences. Every construct is bipolar, specifying how two things are similar to each other (lying on the same pole) and different from a third thing. They can be expanded with new ideas. He developed the reportory grid in order to produce a visual representation of the relationship of these dimensions and the psychological distances involved.

In Adlers personality theoryEdit

Adler uses the term to denote coping strategies that people use to avoid showing their shortcomings. He identified four ways in which prople extend psychological distance to avoid intimacy. These include:

In interpersonal communicationEdit

In interpersonal communication psychological distance is sustained by the deliberate maintenance of dispassion and emotional detachment. This is seen in therapy by the attempts of therapist to maintain therapeutic neutrality

In statisticsEdit

In statistics graphical representations of factor analyses and multidimensional scaling may be said to represent psychological distance as shown by the proximity of data points.


See alsoEdit


  1. Reber, AS & Reber ES (2001). Dictionary of Psychology, 3rd ed. London:Penguin.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Karakayali, Nedim. 2009. "Social Distance and Affective Orientations." Sociological Forum, vol. 23, n.3, pp. 538-562.
  3. Bogardus, E. S. 1947. ‘‘Measurement of Personal-Group Relations,’’ Sociometry, 10: 4: 306–311.

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