Middle Is Near

We prefer items in the middle of a range:

When participants were presented with a line of five pictures, they preferred pictures in the centre rather than at either end. This applies when the line of pictures was arranged horizontally or vertically and when participants selected from five pairs of identical socks arranged vertically. The results support the centre-stage explanation of location-based preference rather than the hemispheric difference or body-specific accounts. (more)

We attend less to abstract goals for middle items, suggesting we see them more in near mode:

People are more likely to adhere to their standards at the beginning and end of goal pursuit—and slack in the middle. We demonstrate this pattern of judgment and behavior in adherence to ethical standards (e.g., cheating), religious traditions (e.g., skipping religious rituals), and performance standards (e.g., “cutting corners” on a task). We also show that the motivation to adhere to standards by using proper means is independent and follows a different pattern from the motivation to reach the end state of goal pursuit. (more)

This all fits with our preferring to act in near mode:

Not only are we designed to talk a good idealistic talk from afar while taking selfish practical actions up close, we also seem to be designed to direct our less visible actions into contexts where our near minds rule, and direct grand idealistic talk to contexts where our far minds do the talking. We talk an idealistic talk, but walk a practical walk, and try to avoid walking our talk or talking our walk. (more)

So folks who think of their era as the “end of history” or the “start of the future” are more likely to see it in far mode. To get yourself to think more in near mode, for better analysis, try to see the object of your attention as in the middle of a range of possibilities. Of course if you instead want to be more creative about your topic, think of it as an extreme.

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  • Ari T

    So you are saying that in near mod… wait you lost me in the middle of your post!

    • Robert Wiblin

      It’s easy Ari. Things in the middle are far away, things that are near you are in the middle, while things that are far away are close by. Capische?

  • J Smart

    If I’m reading this right, you’re saying that when people are presented with a set of options, they re-normalize their evaluations of those options, and then generally prefer those that seem closer to the middle of this new spectrum, and are more willing to compromise standards and ideals in favor of practical judgment of these “near-center” options. The takeaway being that if we want to engage our best analysis of an options practical pros and cons, we should attempt to envision a spectrum of options that, when renormalized for comparison, has the option we wish to analyze near its center, but if we want to come up with creative ways to pursue that option, we should renormalize in a way that makes our considered option seem extreme, as this encourages us to maintain ideals and standards in pursuit of it.

    i.e. You’d do best to evaluate the prospect of going to college by envisioning it as between abandoning all other pursuits and devoting your life to obscure academia and dropping all academic pursuits and pursuing your passion for, say, dance.

    If, however, you want to be creative about how best to pursue college, you could renormalize so that you’re considering a spectrum which has at one end very noncomittal pursuits to education – you’ll watch a Discovery channel documentary once a week, and college at the other end. This encourages thinking of all the necessary circumstances to ensure your college education is up to standards.

  • Trevor Blake

    We prefer symmetry. Either end is different, the middle is not different / like itself.

  • A Robot

    looks like it trashed the code I pasted.

    Change the url

    http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1

    to

    http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&autoStart=0

    toward the beginning of the code…