Being Mentally Healthy – 12. Psychospace

Spacetime is the mind’s primary paradigm. The inner world is also spatial. This lesson is about how we perceive in psychospace.

Everything is a mental construction. Perception is a construal. As Israeli psychologists Nira Liberman and Yaacov Trope observed: “It is impossible to experience the past and the future, other places, other people, and alternatives to reality. And yet, memories, plans, predictions, hopes, and counterfactual alternatives populate our minds, influence our emotions, and guide our choice and action.”

Liberman and Trope stated their construal level theory in 1998. It explains psychospace, which is the relative distance that the mind considers objects, actions, and events to be. The more distant something is construed to be, the more abstractly one thinks of it, and vice versa. Whatever is the focus of attention is always a concrete experience.

Liberman and Trope: “Psychospace is the subjective experience that something is close or far away from the self, here, and now. Psychospace distance is egocentric: its reference point is the self, here and now, and the different ways in which an object might be removed from that point – in time, space, social distance, and hypothetically – constitute different distance dimensions.”

High-level construal is abstract: looking at the big picture, getting the overall gist. Conversely, low-level construal is concrete, focused on detail.

Our minds regularly move between the concrete and abstract to perform a task and then evaluate it, or solve a problem in getting something done. Liberman and Trope: “Mental construal processes traverse psychological distances and switch between proximal and distal perspective. Moving from a concrete representation of an object to a more abstract representation involves retaining central features and omitting features that by the very act of abstraction are deemed incidental.”

Learning is inductive reasoning: taking specific examples and generalizing them though categorization. All categories are abstractions.

Belief is the conviction that an abstraction is real. We’ll talk more about the problem with belief in the next lesson.

There are 4 psychospace dimensions: spatial, temporal, interpersonal, and hypothetical. The hypothetical dimension is in imagining the likelihood of an event occurring. The more likely something seems, the more concrete the mind takes it to be. The same applies to time and space.

Japanese psychologist Kentaro Fujita had this to say on spatial construal with regard to proximity: “Spatial distance is conceptualized as a dimension of psychological distance. People identify actions as ends rather than as means to a greater extent when these actions occur spatially distant, as opposed to near, and they use more abstract language to recall spatially distant events, compared with near events. Spatially distant events are associated with high-level construals.”

So too with temporal psychospace. Events deemed significant by the mind are considered as proximal, even though they may have occurred long ago. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the mental illness of keeping a horrifying event close, irrespective of it being long past.

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A child’s mental development involves gaining pliability with psychospace.

An infant’s experiences are all concrete. The mind develops in later infancy to attain a higher-level construal.

Maturing to achieve a proper perspective is a matter of psychospace management. Liberman and Trope: “Human development in the first years of life involves acquiring the ability to plan for the more distant future, to consider possibilities that are not present, and to consider the perspective of more distant people.”

Emotive intensity is an outcome of psychospace. Frustration is a concrete experience which can be reduced by psychologically distancing oneself from the situation. More generally, increasing psychological distance via higher-level construal dampens the impact of negative emotions and makes challenging tasks easier. Indian American psychologist Manoj Thomas: “Psychological distance can reduce the subjective experience of difficulty caused by task complexity and task anxiety.”

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American social psychologist Solomon Asch determined that the impressions formed when meeting someone is a Gestalt-like process, in that details of observation and conversation effortlessly meld into a summation. Asch: “We look at a person and immediately a certain impression of his character forms itself in us. Such impressions form with remarkable rapidity and with great ease.” Asch found that first impressions form abstractly and holistically rather than concretely and piecemeal.

The situation in which acquaintances are made affects the impressions formed via construed psychological distance. American psychologists Randy McCarthy and John Skowronski: “When forming impressions, psychological distance affects whether perceivers construe behavioral information about another person relatively concretely, for example, how a behavior was performed, or relatively abstractly, such as why a behavior was done. The behaviors of distant individuals are especially likely to spontaneously elicit trait inferences.”

Implicit psychological distance subtly shapes expectations about another person’s behaviors and their consistency. McCarthy and Skowronski: “People expect distantly construed individuals to behave in a manner that is especially consistent with their inferred dispositions.” Those we are close to we construe has having a greater variety of behaviors.

In the present electronic age, within an increasing number of contacts made at a geographical remove, it may take mental effort to close the psychological distance and consider long-distance acquaintances and attendant impressions of them with an appropriate construal level. American social psychologist Sean McCrea cautions: “Placing individuals into a more abstract construal mind-set influences stereotyping.”

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In the state of ignorance that the Collective suffer under, the involvement of the mind-body is concrete: experience feels real. In realization, the experience of living is more abstract – there is a felt psychological distance between consciousness and the mind: a witnessing, as contrasted with the concrete experience of being the engaged mind-body. It is this dissociation that affords high-level construal of everything that is not the focus of attention.

Liberman and Trope: “Psychospace is an aspect of meaning.” The emotive concept of attachment is related to psychospace. Unenlightened people are attached to what they construe as their possessions, including people they care about and what they identify with, such as their profession.

By contrast, in enlightenment, the world feels more distal, more abstract. This natural higher-level construal lessens sense of attachment.

The idea of oneself is an abstraction when one is realized. A separateness from actuality is not only conceptual in unity consciousness, it is experienced. The spiritual maturation of realization is the fruition of the same process that a young child undergoes in mentally taking steps to higher-context construal.

By contrast, being in the moment is completely concrete in realization. With quietude, full attention can be paid to the task at hand without mental distraction, affording keen focus on details. Easy low-level construal also applies to social situations. This concrete closeness yields an enhanced sense of intimacy.

The most effective psychospace is had in unity consciousness: a generalized high-level construal along with a fine focus for getting work done. The experience of entanglement and unicity makes treating other life with requisite respect easy. The overall effect is comfortable actualization and a natural compassion. Indian yogi Paramahansa Yogananda: “Live quietly in the moment and see the beauty of all before you.”

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Perception is always a construal. How concrete or abstract something appears in the mind affects how we perceive it.

Psychospace shapes the meaning we give things, our sense of attachment, and the quality of our relations with others. The elevation of consciousness affords a greater fluidity in traversing psychospace – naturally providing perspectives that make solving problems easier, give greater intimacy, and generally make living more enjoyable.

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We look next at the inner corrosion caused by belief.