Anxiety Is Near

How do you gear yourself up for a big test, an important presentation, or any other high-pressure situation?  … Reminding yourself of the high stakes … will actually impede your performance. … Reminding yourself how unimportant the event is in the big scheme of things is a better tactic, and psychologists have come up with a variety of ingenious ways to help us do so. …

[Researchers] gave a group of seventh-graders an in-class assignment in which they were presented with a list of values and asked to choose which one was most important to them. … The control group in the study chose a value that was not important to them. … This brief writing assignment significantly improved the grades of African-American students, and reduced the racial achievement gap by 40 percent. … a similar approach … [helps] female college students taking an introductory physics course. …

[Researchers] asked university students to think about their ancestors by drawing a family tree or by writing an essay imagining how their forebears lived and what advice they would give them. The students who thought and wrote about their ancestors did better on subsequent intelligence tests than members of the control group (who were asked to think instead about their most recent trip to the supermarket). (more; HT Barker via Katja)

Seem an application of near-far theory (aka construal level theory) to me. Basic values and distant ancestors should both evoke a far mental mode, where we feel higher status and care less about everything.

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  • Jeff M.

    Not that it needs to, but does construal level theory have any applications at this point? I suppose any understanding of psychological tendencies can be used for some marketing purposes, and maybe integrated into therapy.

    Most of what I’ve seen about which things are near and far make me feel like it’s about learning a taxonomy. Memorizing all the species, phyla, classes, etc. is not the most productive way to understand biology, so I feel similarly unmotivated/disinterested by construal level theory. (Of course it’s good that someone is categorizing the biological taxons and the psychological taxons. It may just not be for me, but I’m curious if I’m missing something else about it that makes it more than just taxonomy.)

  • I’m not sure that’s right. For example, consider people who experience severe panic attacks about death–death that is as of yet theoretical and far for them. They’re intensely scared/anxious of something that is the farthest it gets.