That is pretty convincing. But Williams and Bargh decided to run one more test, one that dealt head-on with the issue of personal security. The researchers asked all the subjects about the strength of their emotional bonds to their parents, siblings and hometown, and they found that those who had been primed for greater psychological distance reported weaker ties even to these important emotional anchors. Or, put another way, those subjects had more emotional detachment from the situation.
What is remarkable is that this all takes place unconsciously, apart from awareness: the spatial distance between two arbitrary objects (in this case, two mere dots on a graph) is apparently powerful enough to activate an abstract symbol of distance and safety in the brain, which in turn is powerful enough to shape our responses to the world. It is almost enough to make me move that vase a bit farther from the sofa and just a bit closer to that lamp over there.
Note: This story was originally printed with the title, "Arranging for Serenity".
This article was originally published with the title Arranging for Serenity.