Simulational fluency reduces feelings of psychological distance

Kellen Mrkva, Mark Travers, Leaf Van Boven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (SciVal)


Why do some events feel "like yesterday" whereas others feel "ages away"? Past research has identified cues that influence people's estimates of distance in units such as how many miles or days away events are from the self. However, what makes events feel psychologically close or distant? We examine the hypothesis that increased simulational fluency, the ease with which people mentally imagine events, makes events feel psychologically close. Simulational fluency was associated with feelings that multiple past and future holidays were psychologically close (Studies 1a and 1b). Writing short, easy-to-generate descriptions of Christmas made it feel psychologically closer and more fluently simulated compared with writing longer, difficult-to-generate descriptions (Study 2). This pattern was not anticipated by readers of the same content who did not directly experience the fluency of writing descriptions. Writing descriptions of Halloween made it feel fluently simulated and psychologically close, even as concrete "how" descriptions reduced construal level compared with abstract "why" descriptions (Study 3). Listening to a fluent audio description of a past Super Bowl, compared with a disfluent audio description, caused the game to feel psychologically closer in both space and time (Study 4). Reading a description of the Super Bowl in easy-to-read font, compared with difficult-to-read font, made the game feel more fluently simulated and psychologically closer (Study 5). These findings have implications for theories of psychological distance and its role in everyday life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-376
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
NSF Grant 1124486 supported this research. Charles Judd, Bernadette Park, Lawrence Williams, and members of the Emotion, Decision, Judgment, and Identity lab provided feedback on the research and earlier versions of the manuscript. Studies 1a, 1b, 2, and 3 were included as part of Mark Travers PhD thesis. Portions of this research were presented at the 2012 and 2013 meetings of the Association for Psychological Science and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Fluency
  • Prospection
  • Psychological distance
  • Retrospection
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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