Consumer and Social Cognition
Our research interests lie within the field of social cognition. On the one hand, we examine the effects of processing fluency on social judgments and decisions. On the other hand, we investigate the situational influences on construal level (i.e. the abstraction level of mental representations) as well as its effects on behavior, perception and social judgments. Accordingly, our research program merges aspects of processing fluency and construal level, both of which are important when judgments and decisions are made in a social context.
An important research focus is ease of processing in social judgments. Information processing is often accompanied by various subjective experiences that influence social judgments, such as the ease with which information is generated or encoded (fluency). For example, the ease with which one obtains information about oneself influences self-judgments (Schwarz et al., 1991). In our research, we test the main hypothesis that when the experience of cognitive processing deviates from the situational context, it is particularly relevant and informative for social judgments and decisions. This context can be a prior expectation of the ease of processing or the social situation in which the experience takes place. In several studies, we were able to show that the ease of processing can influence e.g. truth or opinion judgments, especially when the fluency deviates from the context. Our current research focuses on the situational conditions and the processes mediating these effects. Two overview publications summarize the state of our research on processing fluency (Hansen & Wänke, 2013, Wänke & Hansen, 2015).
A second area of research refers to the situational determinants and consequences of the construal level, i.e. of the degree of abstraction with which humans mentally represent their subjective reality. In the subjective construction of social reality, the focus can lie on different stimulus features which can vary between situations and individuals. An important dimension is the level of abstraction (construal level). The behavior “playing the piano” can be described as concrete, e.g. “pushing the keys”, or as abstract, e.g. “making music”. Psychological distance has been identified as an important factor that influences the construal level (Trope & Liberman, 2003, 2010).
Our research examines both determinants and consequences of construal level, as well as its influences on experiences, behavior and social judgments. Regarding determinants, we found that thoughts of money and/or luxury goods cause more abstract representations (Hansen, Kutzner & Wänke, 2013, Hansen & Wänke, 2011). Furthermore, certain musical sounds that appear psychologically remote (for example, reverb effects or novel harmonies) lead to more abstract representations and corresponding effects on product judgments and consumer choices (Hansen, & Melzner, 2014).
Regarding the consequences of the construal level, we provided evidence that the construal level has an impact on experience, e.g. on the experience of time: time passes subjectively faster when situations are represented in a concrete rather than an abstract way (Hansen & Trope, 2013). Construal level also affects truth judgments: statements formulated on a concrete level are more likely to be perceived as true than those on an abstract level; this effect is moderated by psychological distance and an abstract mindset (Hansen & Wänke, 2010). We also showed that construal level (manipulated through psychological distance) affects the perception of causality: in events that are spatially, temporally, or socially distant, people are more likely to focus on their causes; while in events that are psychologically close, people focus more on their effects (Hansen, Rim & Fiedler, 2013; Rim, Hansen & Trope, 2013).
We have also found that construal level influences behavior: A project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) investigated the influences of psychological distance on the imitation of other persons’ behavior. Here, we were able to show on a broad scale that distance affects the imitation of goals and movements (e.g. gestures), behavioral and emotional mimicry, as well as imitation of consumer behavior (for an overview over the whole project, see Hansen & Genschow, 2020).