Competitive interaction leads to perceptual distancing between actors

Laura E. Thomas, Christopher C. Davoli, James R. Brockmole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


People physically distance themselves from competitors and the disliked, and cooperate less with those who are further away. We examine whether social interaction can also impact the space people perceive between themselves and others by measuring the influence of competitive dynamics on visual perception. In 2 experiments, participants played a ball toss game until they reached a target score. In Experiment 1, a confederate stood across the room from the participant and either (a) played the same game competitively, (b) played the same game cooperatively, or (c) observed the participant without playing, while in Experiment 2, 2 participants played the same versions of the game with each other. After the game, participants provided an estimate of the distance between themselves and the other player. Participants in Experiment 1 who competed with the confederate consistently judged her to be more distant than participants who cooperated with the confederate or played alone. In Experiment 2, players who lost the competition perceived more distance between themselves and their opponents than did players who won, suggesting that the experience of losing a competition drives this perceptual distancing. These findings demonstrate the power of a socially distancing interaction to create perceptual distance between people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2112-2116
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2014


  • Competition
  • Distance perception
  • Embodied perception
  • Social interaction


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