Distant determination and near determinism: The role of temporal distance in prospective attributions to will

Elena Stephan, Daniella Shidlovski, Daniel Heller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People hold different beliefs about the causal role of will in shaping future life outcomes. We examine how temporal distance from a predicted event influences such beliefs, or attributions to will. Laypersons conceptualize will as acting according to one's goals, being free from constraints. We reasoned that construal of a future event or action in terms of individual's superordinate goals (rather than in terms of concrete aspects of the situation) would be associated with enhanced attributions to will. Drawing from Construal Level Theory, we proposed that predictions about temporally distant events rely more on high-level aspects (e.g., superordinate goals) than low-level aspects (e.g., contextual factors) and thus will result in greater attributions to will compared to predictions about near events. We show that an increase in temporal distance enhances beliefs in the causal impact of will in shaping outcomes of the self (Study 1) and others (Study 3). We also show that the individual tendency to construe actions in terms of goals (as assessed by the Behavior Identification Form) is associated with greater attributions to will (Study 2). We conclude that construal of an event in terms of superordinate goals (due to the manipulation of psychological distance or to individual differences) enhances attributions to will.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-121
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • Attributions to will
  • Construal Level Theory
  • Temporal distance

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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