The disconnect between abstract ideas and concrete experiences poses intriguing questions about its mechanism. Why do abstract ideas and concrete experiences sometimes become disconnected, and what cognitive processes might lead to such a disconnect? I take a construal level approach to these questions and used novel reaction time measures that I developed and validated to study how people switch between abstract and concrete thinking. I found robust evidence that people experience a cognitive cost when switching from abstract to concrete cognition and vice versa (Wang & Ledgerwood, in progress). This cognitive cost of construal level switching exists even after accounting for people’s general tendency to think at a certain level of abstraction, and it is both related to and distinct from more general executive functions like task switching.
Could construal level switching cost be a potential explanation for the challenges of connecting abstract ideas and concrete experiences? Do people who experience more difficulty switching between different levels of mental abstraction have greater disconnect between their abstract ideas and concrete experiences? I am currently exploring these potential consequences of construal level switching cost, and I am using multilevel modeling to explore its inter-individual versus intra-individual dynamics.