Too close to call: Spatial distance between options influences choice difficulty

Iris K. Schneider*, Julia Stapels, Sander L. Koole, Norbert Schwarz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In language, people often refer to decision difficulty in terms of spatial distance. Specifically, decision-difficulty is expressed as proximity, for instance when people say that a decision was “too close to call”. Although these expressions are metaphorical, we argue, in line with research on conceptual metaphor theory, that they reflect how people think about difficult decisions. Thus, here we examine whether close spatial distance can actually make decision-making harder. In six experiments (total N = 672), participants chose between two choice options presented either close together or far apart. As predicted, close (rather than far) choice options led to more difficulty, both in self-report (Experiment 1A–1C) and behavioral measures (decision-time, Experiment 2 and 3). Identifying a boundary condition, we show that close choice options lead to more difficulty only for within-category choices (Experiment 3). The too-close-to-call effect is theoretically and methodologically relevant for a broad array of research where choice options are visually presented, ranging from social cognition, judgment and decision-making to more applied settings in consumer psychology and marketing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103939
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Early online date19 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • Choice
  • Consumer behavior
  • Decision-making
  • Metaphor
  • Spatial distance

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Too close to call: Spatial distance between options influences choice difficulty'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this