Psychological proximity improves reasoning in academic aptitude tests

Britt Hadar, Maayan Katzir, Sephi Pumpian, Tzur Karelitz, Nira Liberman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Performance on standardized academic aptitude tests (AAT) can determine important life outcomes. However, it is not clear whether and which aspects of the content of test questions affect performance. We examined the effect of psychological distance embedded in test questions. In Study 1 (N = 41,209), we classified the content of existing AAT questions as invoking proximal versus distal details. We found better performance with proximal compared to distal questions, especially for low-achieving examinees. Studies 2 and 3 manipulated the distance of questions adapted from AATs and examined three moderators: overall AAT score, working-memory capacity, and presence of irrelevant information. In Study 2 (N = 129), proximity (versus distance) improved the performance of low-achieving participants. In Study 3 (N = 1744), a field study, among low-achieving examinees, proximity improved performance on questions that included irrelevant information. Together, these results suggest that the psychological distance that is invoked by the content of test questions has important consequences for performance in real-life high-stakes tests.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10
Journalnpj Science of Learning
Issue number1
StatePublished - 29 Apr 2023

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