Measuring Uncertainty with Hypothetical Distance in Written Language


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According to the Construal-Level Theory of psychological distance (Trope and Liberman 2010), hypothetical distance refers to the likelihood of an event and having access to or possessing an object. Hypothetical distance is a customer-centric measurement. The reference point is a customer’s current situation and the previous experiences associated with it. Hypothetical distance is said to be close for likely and certain events and distant for unlikely and uncertain events.

Customers’ uncertainty evaluations can be measured with a hypothetical distance in language. The prediction is that for events the customer deems likely, s/he will use concrete and detailed words in the written message. For events deemed unlikely, s/he will use abstract and vague words. Hence, if the writer thinks it is likely that COVID-19 will impact his or her life, concrete words are likely to be used. Otherwise, abstract words are likely to be used.

Hypothetical distance measures uncertainty. It is one of the four distance dimensions, e.g. temporal, social, and spatial, of psychological distance and extends to events, e.g. COVID-19, and objects, e.g. brands. Extant research shows that psychological distance influences preferences and decision-making.


Dr. Simone Griesser studies consumer and brand language on the basis of psychological theories and concepts to explain consumer perception, evaluation, and decision making. She wrote her thesis about the psychological distance of brand association and brand communication at Warwick Business School (GB). In addition to her Ph.D., she worked part-time for the AI Innovation Network and presented her research at the Association of Consumer Research, European Marketing Association Conference, Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Before starting her Ph.D., Simone spent over a decade in the tourism, hospitality, and education industry and has thus a profound understanding and appreciation for business processes and solutions. Simone works at the Institute for Market Supply and Consumer Decision-Making at the School of Applied Psychology FHNW where she conducts applied research teaches and coaches student projects.

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