Sex is Near, Love is Far

Sex is near and love is far, logical analysis is near while “aha” creativity is far, and conventional art is near while unconventional art is far.  These results seem to confirm my suggestion that near mode emphasizes practical action, while far mode emphasizes social image.  Sex is more what we really want, while love is more how we present ourselves to get such things.  Analysis tends to be more practical, while “creativity” and unconventionality is more done to show off.  More here and here:

When in love, people typically focus on a long-term perspective, which should enhance holistic thinking and thereby creative thought, whereas when experiencing sexual encounters, they focus on the present and on concrete details enhancing analytic thinking. … Two studies … found support for this hypothesis. …

Participants primed with love reported more wishes, goals, or events that related to future events compared to participants primed with sex or those in the control group …

The creative insight task … is (a) ultimately soluble, (b) likely to produce an impasse during the solution, and (3) likely to produce an “aha!” experience when the solution is discovered after prolonged efforts. An example: …

A dealer in antique coins got an offer to buy a beautiful bronze coin. The coin had an emperor’s head on one side and the date 544 B.C. stamped on the other. The dealer examined the coin, but instead of buying it, he called the police. Why? …

For the analytic thinking task, four logic problems from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) of the form “If A < B and C > B then?” … involve evaluating the truth value of a number of propositions given an initial set of basic facts. …

Participants were more likely to prefer the global figures over the local ones after having been primed with love. …. We found no effects of moods, gender, or relationship status (subsequently or jointly entered) as mediators for effects on performance. …

We recently collected data showing that thinking of a loved partner enhances global processing and further leads to pronounced halo effects (less differentiation of partner qualities), whereas local processing triggered by sex priming reduced it.

Another paper also finds far mode does better at word creativity:

The linguistic skills task gave participants unlimited time to list as many exemplars of the category ‘‘modes of transportation” as they could think of. … We derived three measures of creativity … fluency (the number of exemplars generated), flexibility (the number of distinct categories represented in the generated exemplars), and originality (the average uniqueness of the exemplars judged by independent raters). … Participants in the distant condition displayed greater fluency, were more flexible, and generated more original exemplars.

Yet another paper finds far mode minds more accepting of unconventional art:

Participants that had thought about distant events and presumably thought more abstractly were more likely to include unconventional artworks into the category of arts than participants that had thought about near events, and thus presumably thought in more concrete terms.

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  • I usually post the things on Tuesday that I think will be the most interesting, as there are more blog readers on Tuesday than any other day. Seems today I guessed especially badly.

  • TGGP

    Hey, Robin, I’m surprised you haven’t brought up the near-far dimension in Randall Collins’ “Violence”, which you posted on recently. I just got it and it’s good stuff. One thing he repeatedly points out is how much more belligerent you are the further you are from the enemy. So the home-front calls for more violence than non-combat rear echelon troops, who in turn are more gung ho than combat troops. The soldiers most willing to fire on the enemy are artillery (partly because they work as a group, machine-gunners also have high rates of fire), snipers, pilots or other operators of long-range weapons. He has less of an ev-psych rational-choice approach, he frames it as people getting caught up in interpersonal rhythms which are full of tension during conflict but solidarity outside of it.

    • That is an interesting observation.

      • Yes,
        I think non-anonymous academic bloggers lie about TGGP’s influence.
        Shouldn’t you be linking to TGGP? Shouldn’t Professor Gelman?

        I don’t link to him, but I claim psychopaternalist reasons for my links, not that I’m linking to what’s most interesting or influential.

  • I don’t think it’s valid to analyze emotions using the near/far distinction. The distinction is for plans and behavior, hypothetical actions and signals about those actions. When the distinction is present, in far mode, the pressure is to signal hypothetical actions, while in near mode, the pressure is to choose different actions. For emotions, the distinction doesn’t make sense, as emotions are actually present, they are not hypothetical. Now, the emotions may be an adaptation that pushes forward the signal about some other hypothetical action, but it’s an important distinction.

    So, for the topic of this article, I’d say both sex and love are near, while the extent of taking care about the loved ones is far, with love being the near counterpart.

    • And the evidence presented in the post seems completely irrelevant to you?

      • Conceptual issue, not about evidence. I object to the following part of summary:

        Sex is more what we really want, while love is more how we present ourselves to get such.

        I would rather summarize the evidence as saying that sex primes into near mode, causes to think more of what we really want, while love primes into far mode, causing us to think of how we present outselves. Love/sex themselves are not on the near/far spectrum, as neither is about what is being signaled or what is being preferred, but rather are adaptations implementing near/far thought.

      • In all of my discussions of near-far I’ve always talked primarily about what puts us into one mode or the other, and what is more accessible in that mode. That is pretty much all there is to something being near or far.

      • Okay, possibly just a problem with clarity of definitions then. But “I’ve always talked primarily about what puts us into one mode or the other” sounds very different from the phrase I cited above, where you don’t use near/far terminology, you plainly say “Sex is more what we really want”, not “Sex puts us into a mode of thinking where we consider more what we really want rather than how we look to others”. The former (under trivial interpretation) is about wanting sex as opposed to other things, while the latter is about clarity in thinking about wanting possibly something else, with “sex” acting as cognitive cue. Which of these do you actually say?

      • Saying “sex is more what we really want” isn’t talking about near-far at all. It is a separate claim, that seemed to me to help support my speculation about near-far differing functions.

      • Thanks, that makes sense now.

  • Psychohistorian

    “Sex is more what we really want, while love is more how we present ourselves to get such.”

    This pretty much shot your credibility. Yes, the rest of the post is interesting. No, it doesn’t even pretend to back up this statement. This feels like one of the more pronounced of a long line of bold, “unconventional” statements with no basis in fact or relation to the data actually discussed.

    • I agree that that statement is poorly supported, and seems quite presumptuous. Based on a significant amount of experience I find the sensation of really being in love (even if unrequited) both more desirable and rewarding than sex, along with a number of other non-exceptional activities. It’s possible I’m unusual in this though.

      • I forgot to add, I agree about the prompting effect. One does make me think more near term and other farther.

    • Seems to me just a basic Ev. Psych. explanation, no presumption there.

  • mjgeddes

    I agree with the near/far distinction, very interesting findings cited, but I disagree with Robin’s interpretation of it. Rather than just being ‘the public relations department of the mind’, I think the far mode is something far more important, I think it’s an entirely new form of intelligence.

    My Conjecture:

    Near Mode=Rationalistic Intelligence (Decision theory, Goal optimization, Bayesian)

    Far Mode = Creative intelligence (Information theory, Agent coordination/integration, Analogical)

    Humans don’t operate on decision theory (near mode), rather they operate on the basis of categorization and analogy formation (far mode). This could be a feature rather than a bug.

    The ‘Signaling’ concept (which I agree is fundamental to far mode thought) could be more important than supposed. ‘Signaling’ can also include ‘Self-Signaling’; but I don’t see a clear difference between ‘self-signaling’ and knowledge representation.

    Look at this paper (link below), it proposes to explain consciousness as a communication system, the idea is that the mind consists of multiple agents, and consciousness is a ‘cross-talk’ communication system which coordinates their decision making. (That is, ‘self-signaling’). Let me suggest that this exactly equivalent to far mode thought:

    Before the mind can engage in decision making, it must first represent the things it’s making decisions about (form models or representations of them). The crucial point is that Bayesian decision theory is itself a model… it presupposes a model of causality… a representation of a time-line of plans . So knowledge representation is primary, the actual process of decision making is secondary.

    Back up to the previous paragraph on consciousness as self-signaling/cross-talk – between different internal sub-agents. I see no clear difference between this and knowledge representation. My suggestion is that ‘far mode’ thinking is in the fact the entire basis of intelligence!

    The articles cited support my interpretation. If I am right, knowledge representation (categorization) is entirely equivalent to ‘self-signaling’ (far mode thought). Note that the linguistic task cited was a categorization task. I’m suggesting that the very categorization process itself is not something separate from far-mode thought.

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  • michael vassar

    If analysis was practical it would have more evolved hardware to support it.

  • Laura

    This argument seems more like a personal opinion rather than a factual one. Were is your evidence? And even if you do, is it distinct from your own bias?

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