Sensory-motor mechanisms unify psychology: motor effort and perceived distance to cultural out-groups

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ABSTRACT This thesis proposes that a focus on the bodily level of analysis can unify explanation of behavior in cognitive, social, and cultural psychology. To examine this unifying proposal, a

ABSTRACT This thesis proposes that a focus on the bodily level of analysis can unify explanation of behavior in cognitive, social, and cultural psychology. To examine this unifying proposal, a sensorimotor mechanism with reliable explanatory power in cognitive and social psychology was used to predict a novel pattern of behavior in cultural context, and these predictions were examined in three experiments. Specifically, the finding that people judge objects that require more motor effort to interact with as farther in visual space was adapted to predict that people with interdependent self-construal(SC) , relative to those with independent SC, would visually perceive their cultural outgroups as farther relative to their cultural in-groups. Justifying this cultural extension of what is primarily a cognitive mechanism is the assumption that, unlike independents, Interdependents interact almost exclusively with in-group members, and hence there sensorimotor system is less tuned to cross-cultural interactions. Thus, interdependents, more so than independents, expect looming cross-cultural interactions to be effortful, which may inflate their judgment of distance to the out-groups. Two experiments confirmed these predictions: a) interdependent Americans, compared to independent Americans, perceived American confederates (in-group) as visually closer; b) interdependent Arabs, compared to independent Arabs, perceived Arab confederates (in-group) as closer; and c) interdependent Americans, relative to independent Americans, perceived Arab confederates (out-group) as farther. A third study directly established the proposed relation between motor effort and distance to human targets: American men perceived other American men as closer after an easy interaction than after a more difficult interaction. Together, these results demonstrate that one and the same sensorimotor mechanism can explain/predict homologous behavioral patterns across the subdisciplines of psychology.