Individuals can adopt two distinct strategies or orientations when they pursue goals (Higgins, 1997, 1998, 1999a). They can pursue aspirations in the future, striving to maximize gains, called a promotion focus. Alternatively, they can strive to fulfill their immediate duties and obligations, attempting to minimize shortfalls, called a prevention focus. These two orientations significantly affect the behavior, emotions, cognitions, and preferences of individuals.
When individuals adopt a promotion--rather than prevention--focus, some drawbacks can ensue. Individuals can become more sensitive to distractions (e.g., Freitas, Liberman, & Higgins, 2002). They are also less inclined to change their behavior in response to criticism (Forster, Grant, Idson, & Higgins, 2001). In contrast, a promotion focus, which can be activated merely by reflecting upon future hopes and aspirations for example, can afford many benefits. A promotion focus tends to improve the capacity of individuals to negotiate effectively, for example (Galinsky, Leonardelli, Okhuysen, & Mussweiler, 2005). They also solve problems more creatively (Friedman & Forster, 2001).
The concept of regulatory focus originated from self discrepancy theory (Higgins, 1987, 1989, 1999;; for further information, see Self discrepancy theory). According to this theory, throughout the lifespan, individuals learn the duties and obligations they must fulfill to prevent immediate adverse events, such as punishments (Higgins, 1987). Over time, these duties and obligations consolidate to form an abstracted set of principles, designated as an ought self guide (Higgins, 1987). When individuals feel they might not have fulfilled these duties and obligations, they anticipate an adverse event, experienced as agitation and anxiety (Strauman, 1989).
Furthermore, throughout their life, individuals also learn the achievements and aspirations they must realize to secure rewards, such as love and approval. These achievements and aspirations also coalesce to form an abstracted set of principles, referred to as the ideal self guide (Higgins, 1987). When individuals feel they might not be able to achieve these aspirations, they anticipate the withdrawal of these rewards--a gradual rather than abrupt sense of loss--manifested as dejection, disappointment, and depression (Strauman, 1989). Several studies have corroborated the key propositions that underpin self discrepancy theory (for reviews, see Boldero & Francis, 1999 Boldero, Moretti, Bell, & Francis, 2005;; Higgins, 1999b& Scott & O'Hara, 1993).
For example, Higgins, Shah, and Friedman (1997), accumulated evidence that vindicates self discrepancy theory. Participants were instructed to list traits they would like to exhibit, or feel they should exhibit--referred to as ideal and ought characteristics. In addition, participants specified the extent to which they exhibited each of these characteristics, called an actual self. Finally, the extent to which they experienced various emotions was assessed. Consistent with self discrepancy theory, participants who felt they had not fulfilled their ideals, called an actual-ideal discrepancy, reported an elevated incidence of dejection. In contrast, participants who felt they had not satisfied their oughts, referred to as an actual-ought discrepancy, reported an elevated incidence of agitation.
Whether individuals strive to fulfill their duties or aspirations, designated as regulatory focus, depends on both their disposition as well as the immediate context. For instance, some authority figures, such as parents or teachers, tend to apply punitive actions rather than withdrawal rewards to moderate the behavior of children. These children will evolve to become motivated to satisfy their ought self guide, called a prevention focus (Higgins, 1997, 1998). When authority figures withdrawal rewards instead, children will become driven to realize their ideal self guide, referred to as a promotion focus (Higgins, 1997, 1998). Nevertheless, reward structures and other properties of the context can impinge on the regulatory focus of individuals (e.g., Forster, Higgins, & Idson, 1998 Freitas, Liberman, & Higgins, 2002).
In short, individuals who adopt a promotion focus, as defined by Higgins (1997, 1998), experience needs that relate to nurturance, accomplishment, and progress. Hence, they form the goal to pursue ideals and aspiratiaons, striving to maximize future gains. In contrast, individuals who adopt a prevention focus experience needs that relate to safety, security, and protection. They form the goal to satisfy duties, obligations, and responsibilities, attempting to minimize imminent losses.
Regulatory focus shapes the preferences of individuals. As Freitas, and Higgins (2002) demonstrated, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, they prefer creative, exploratory activities in which they can achieve some form of gain--but shun tasks in which they need to identify and address shortfalls. When individuals adopt a prevention focus, however, they prefer to redress shortfalls than facilitate gains.
These observations can be ascribed to the principal of regulatory fit (Higgins, 2000, 2005, 2006). Specifically, individuals can adopt one of two means to fulfill promotion or prevention goals: eagerness or vigilance. Eagerness refers to the inclination to enact behaviors that maximize hits, as defined by signal detection theory, rather than minimize false alarms (see Crowe & Higgins, 1997). Vigilance refers to the inclination to minimize false alarms (Crowe & Higgins, 1997).
Whenever individuals adopt a promotion focus, they experience a sense of congruence, referred to regulatory fit, whenever they demonstrate eagerness (e.g., Cesario, Grant, & Hiuggins, 2004 Freitas & Higgins, 2002 Vaughn, Malik, Schwartz, Petrova, & Trudeau, 2006). In contrast, when individuals adopt a prevention focus, they experience this sense of fit whenever they demonstrate vigilance (e.g., Cesario, Grant, & Hiuggins, 2004 Freitas & Higgins, 2002 Vaughn, Malik, Schwartz, Petrova, & Trudeau, 2006). This affective experience promotes persistence and satisfaction (Higgins, Idson, Freitas, Spiegel, & Molden, 2003). Thus, individuals who experience a promotion focus will prefer tasks or contexts that entail or encourage an emphasis on maximizing gains, rather than minimizing losses. Individuals who experience a prevention focus will prefer tasks or contexts that entail or encourage the diminution of losses.
Several studies have examined the mechanisms that underpin the benefits of regulatory fit. For example, regulatory fit might facilitate the processing of information. Individuals tend to assume that information that is processed rapidly and fluently must be valuable (Lee & Aaker, 2004). Thus, when individuals experience a sense of regulatory fit, they assume the stimuli they are examining must be valuable, which can promote motivation.
To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Holler, Hoelzl, Kirchler, Leder, and Mannetti (2008), participants received messages that promulgated the importance of tax compliance. Participants who adopted a promotion focus were more likely to process the message rapidly--and more likely to support this message--if the benefits or gains associated with compliance were emphasized. In contrast, participants who adopted a prevention focus were more likely to process the message rapidly if the losses or costs associated with breaches of the tax regulations were emphasized.
Usually, regulatory fit is regarded as a desirable and productive state. When individuals experience this sense of fit, they often feel more engaged in their tasks, for example.
Nevertheless, regulatory fit can also elicit some undesirable consequences. That is, the converse of fit, called non-fit (Vaughn, O?Rourke, Schwartz, Malik, Petkova, & Trudeau, 2006), may be beneficial in some circumstances. For example, when individuals experience non-fit, they might deliberate over an issue more exhaustively and thus curb some misleading biases.
This possibility was corroborated by Vaughn, O'Rourke, Schwartz, Malik, Petkova, & Trudeau (2006). In their study, a state of either fit or non-fit was evoked. In particular, the regulatory focus of individuals was first manipulated: They reflected upon their hopes and aspirations or their duties and obligations. Next, when reflecting upon how to fulfill these hopes and aspirations, participants received instructions to demonstrate either eagerness or vigilance. A promotion focus, coupled with vigilance, or a prevention focus, coupled with eagerness, presumably elicited a sense of non-fit.
Finally, participants rated the degree to which a series of celebrities are attractive. Half of these participants were instructed to rate these individuals as accurately as possible.
Typically, after individuals rated a very attractive person, the next person seemed unattractive in comparison. Ratings were thus biased& that is, evaluations of individuals were dependent upon whether the previous person was attractive. If asked to rate accurately, however, individuals sometimes overrode this bias. That is, they recognized the possibility of this bias and adjusted their ratings accordingly (Vaughn, O?Rourke, Schwartz, Malik, Petkova, & Trudeau, 2006).
Nevertheless, only individuals who experienced a state of non-fit, rather than fit, adjusted these ratings. Individuals who experienced a state of fit, therefore, demonstrated biased ratings. These individuals, presumably, felt their preliminary evaluations were appropriate and did not feel motivated to change these ratings.
According to the concept of regulatory fit, people are more persuaded by ads that align to their regulatory focus. Yet, as Yi and Baumgartner (2009) highlight, precisely which features should align to regulatory focus is debatable.
To illustrate, some researchers assume that messages that refer to gains, such as "This product generates 2 benefits", fit with a promotion focus, and messages that refer to losses, such as "This product solves 2 problems" fit with a prevention focus. That is, people with a promotion focus are sensitive to a gain frame, and people with a prevention focus are sensitive to a loss frame.
In contrast, some researchers assume that messages that are positive, such as "This product is beneficial" fit with a promotion focus, and messages that are negative, such as "This product is not beneficial? fit with a prevention focus. That is, people with a promotion focus are sensitive to positive outcomes, and people with a prevention focus are sensitive to negative outcomes.
Finally, some researchers assume that messages that relate to achievement, such as "This product will enhance progress" fit with a promotion focus, and messages that relate to security, such as "This product enhances safety" fit with a prevention focus. In other words, people with a promotion focus are sensitive to information about progress, and people with a prevention focus are sensitive to information about protection.
Yi and Baumgartner (2009) manipulated these three features factorially to determine which combinations are most persuasive. They found that regulatory focus primarily affects whether people focus on positive or negative information. If the message was positive, people with a promotion focus were likely to be persuaded, whereas if the message was negative, people with a prevention focus were likely to be persuaded.
The culture in which individuals are embedded may also determine whether a promotion or prevention focus elicits a sense of fit, as shown by Fulmer, Gelfand, Kruglanski, Kim-Prieto, Diener, Pierro, and Higgins (2010). However, the mechanisms that underpin these effects of culture differ somewhat from the mechanisms that underpin the effects of task characteristics. Specifically, when the personality of individuals matches the prevailing personality of other individuals in their culture, they experience a sense of validation. They feel their perspectives and inclinations are suitable, eliciting a sense of certainty and security.
To illustrate, Fulmer, Gelfand, Kruglanski, Kim-Prieto, Diener, Pierro, and Higgins (2010) collected data from past studies that assessed regulatory focus as well as regulatory fit, personality, and indices of well-being, such as self esteem, positive emotions over the last week, and satisfaction with life. In nations in which promotion focus was high rather than low on average, promotion focus was especially likely to be related to well-being. Similarly, in nations in which a locomotion mode (see regulatory mode) or extraversion (see five factor model of personality) tend to be elevated, these traits were also particularly likely to be positively associated with well-being.
Other factors can also evoke fit. Decision fit, characterized by Wan, Hong, and Sternthal (2009), represents another form of regulatory fit. Specifically, when individuals need to reach decisions, they can apply strategies or approaches that ensure their choices are correct and precise. In other words, they can strive to optimize the accuracy of their decisions, integrating a comprehensive array of data or information. Alternatively, individuals can apply strategies or approaches that expedite these decisions. That is, they can reach these decisions rapidly, often to the detriment of accuracy or precision.
When individuals adopt a prevention focus, they attach more value to the alternatives they choose if they apply strategies that optimize accuracy rather than efficiency. That is, when a prevention focus evoked, individuals strive to fulfill obligations, attempting to minimize shortfalls (Crowe & Higgins, 1997)--a goal that is more likely to be fulfilled if all the alternative courses of action are evaluated comprehensively rather than expeditiously. Attempts to optimize accuracy, therefore, satisfy the needs of individuals who espouse a prevention focus (Wan, Hong, & Sternthal, 2009), eliciting a sense of fit.
Conversely, when individuals experience a promotion focus, they attach more value to the alternatives they choose if they apply strategies that optimize efficiency instead. When a promotion focus is activated, individuals attempt to pursue future aspirations, striving to maximize progress (Crowe & Higgins, 1997). This goal is more likely to be fulfilled if alternatives are evaluated expeditiously, primarily to ensure that no opportunities are overlooked. Approaches that optimize efficiency, hence, satisfy the needs of individuals who espouse a promotion focus (Wan, Hong, & Sternthal, 2009). Indeed, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, they tend to complete tasks expeditiously rather than thoroughly (e.g., Forster, Higgins, & Bianco, 2003).
Wan, Hong, and Sternthal (2009) reported a series of studies that corroborate these propositions. In one study, for example, participants needed to choose between five brands of cell phones. Some participants were encouraged to compare all the brands on every key attribute--battery talk time, battery standby time, warranty, and camera capability--intended to optimize accuracy. Other participants were invited to orient their attention to the most important attribute and choose the brand that prevails on this feature, which expedites progress but sacrifices accuracy. After choosing a brand, participants rated the confidence of their decision.
If a prevention focus had been evoked, participants were more confident in their decision if they had considered all the information comprehensively. If a promotion focus had been elicited, participants were more confident in their decision if they had reflected upon a subset of information only (Wan, Hong, & Sternthal, 2009).
In a subsequent study, information about each brand was presented either simultaneously--to enable comprehensive comparisons--or sequentially--to preclude these comparisons. Again, when a prevention focus was evoked, the chosen alternative was perceived as more valuable if all the brands were presented simultaneously. When a promotion focus was induced, this alternative was perceived as more valuable if the brands were presented sequentially (Wan, Hong, & Sternthal, 2009). Evaluations of the alternatives that were not chosen were unaffected by decision fit (Wan, Hong, & Sternthal, 2009).
Sometimes, individuals interact with someone whose regulatory orientation matches their needs. People with a promotion focus, for example, might interact with an eager person rather than vigilant person. People with a prevention focus might interact with a vigilant person instead of an eager person, sometimes called interpersonal regulatory fit
Interpersonal regulatory fit does indeed enhance the motivation in people with a promotion focus. These individuals seek opportunities to grow and to fulfill their aspirations. An eager person who focuses on nurturance might fulfill this need, evoking a sense of fit (Righetti, Finkenauer, & Rusbult, 2011). In contrast, interpersonal regulatory fit does not enhance motivation in people with a prevention focus. These individuals seek opportunities to satisfy duties and obligations. A vigilant person who focuses on obligations might impose more duties, actually impeding this need rather than evoking a sense of fit (Righetti, Finkenauer, & Rusbult, 2011).
Righetti, Finkenauer, and Rusbult (2011) conducted a series of studies that validate this position. In one study, participants first completed a measure that gauges their regulatory focus. Next, they identified three personal goals, such as to pass an exam. They identified someone in their lives that either tends to facilitate or impede these goals. Finally, participants answered questions that are intended to gauge the regulatory focus of this other person.
If the participants reported a promotion focus, they were more likely to believe that helpful people in their lives exhibit a promotion focus rather than a prevention focus. If the participants reported a prevention focus, helpful people and unhelpful people did not differ on perceived regulatory focus.
In a second study, the regulatory focus of university students was manipulated. That is, participants completed a maze task. Their task was either to hunt the cheese, to elicit a nurturing orientation and promotion focus, or to escape the owl, to elicit a safety orientation and prevention focus. Next, they rated the regulatory focus of a person in their lives and considered whether they feel this person facilitates or impedes their progress on their university course. Specifically, they imagined receiving advice from this person. They next considered whether this advice would increase their motivation, enjoyment, or capacity to complete their course as well as evoke a sense of resonance or fit.
Again, participants with a promotion focus, but not participants with a prevention focus, experience this motivation, enjoyment, confidence, and resonance after imagining advice from someone who shares their regulatory focus. This pattern was observed in another study, even on goals that demand more conservative rather than risky strategies. Another study showed this pattern seems to unfold partly because only individuals with a promotion focuses are aware of similarities between themselves and someone else with the same orientation.
One of the practical implications of this study is that couples in which both members share a promotion focus are especially likely to inspire and motivate one another. People, especially if they exhibit a promotion focus, should seek partners who also demonstrate this orientation.
When individuals experience a promotion focus, they become more sensitive to praise rather than criticism, as shown by Forster, Grant, Idson, and Higgins (2001). Praise, but not criticism, will tend to amplify effort and ultimately improve performance. That is, a promotion focus increases the sensitivity of individuals towards potential gain, but does not augment sensitivity to possible shortfalls. In contrast, when individuals experience a prevention focus they become more sensitive to criticism. After they receive a criticism, they strive even more vigorously to minimize shortfalls in the immediate future.
Similarly, in a study conducted by Idson and Higgins (2000), participants received a series of anagrams to complete. Midway through this set, participants received contrived feedback. For participants who adopted a promotion focus, performance often improved after they received favorable feedback. For participants who adopted a prevention focus, performance was more likely to improve after they received unfavorable feedback. Accordingly, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, they experience a sense of fit, which can increase persistence, when they receive information about gains rather than losses.
Individuals who adopt a promotion focus perform less effectively on tasks if they are expected to triumph (Keller & Bless, 2008). When expectations are elevated, individuals become concerned they might not fulfill these lofty expectations--they might not surpass this high standard. The main objective of individuals who adopt a promotion focus is to fulfill some lofty standard. Hence, high expectations create distress, undermining their performance. Individuals who adopt a prevention focus, in contrast, perform less effectively on tasks if they are expected to fail (Keller & Bless, 2008). When expectations are low, individuals become concerned they might not fulfill the minimum standard that is considered acceptable. The main objective of individuals who adopt a prevention focus is to satisfy minimum standards. Hence, low expectations create anxiety in these individuals, undermining their performance.
The concept of regulatory fit has been applied to demonstrate how the factors that promote motivation vary across personality traits. For example, Vaughn, Baumann, and Klemann (2008), showed that individuals who report an openness to experience, characterized as a desire for novel, diverse, intense, and complex experiences, felt more motivated when they were encouraged to pursue their hopes and aspirations. In contrast, individuals who are closed rather than open, characterized as a desire for familiar tasks and routines, felt more motivated when they were encouraged to satisfy their duties and aspirations.
These findings imply that open individuals tend to adopt an eager orientation and thus experience a sense of fit when they pursue promotion goals. Closed individuals adopt a vigilant orientation, experiencing fit when they pursue prevention goals.
Furthermore, as Higgins, Roney, Crowe, and Hymes (1994) showed, when the ideals and wishes of individuals are accessible, representing a promotion focus, they become more inclined to approach desirable outcomes. In contrast, when duties and responsibilities are accessible, representing a prevention focus, individuals become more inclined to avoid undesirable outcomes.
To illustrate, in one study, Higgins, Roney, Crowe, and Hymes (1994), participants were asked to specify the extent to which they perceive a series of traits as characteristics that are ideal, as characteristics they ought to possess, and as characteristics they current exhibit. Marked differences between characteristics that are ideal and characteristics they current exhibit indiciate the ideal self guide is likely to be activated. Marked differences between characteristics that ought to possess and characteristics they current exhibit indicate the ought self guide is likely to be activated.
When the ideal self guide was activated, participants indicated they were more inclined to engage in strategies that exemplify strong friendship than avoid strategies that typify inappropriate friendship. When the ought self guide was activated, the opposite pattern emerged. These findings indicate that a promotion focus corresponds to approaching desirable outcomes, where as a prevention focus corresponds to avoiding undesirable outcomes.
When individuals need to complete a monotonous activity, they often vary the task slightly, to instill a sense of engagement and enjoyment. They might, for example, vary their handrighting or the order in which they complete the various phases.
As Smith, Wagaman, and Handley (2009) showed, individuals who adopt a promotion, rather than prevention, focus are more inclined to vary these tasks. In their study, participants were instructed to undertake a tedious activity, under the guise of experiencing the roles and responsibilities that some individuals need to fulfill everyday. In essence, the task merely involved copying strings of letters.
Next, participants were interrupted, with the pretext that another study needed to be completed more immediately. They completed a maze task, designed to induce either a promotion focus or a prevention focus. That is, to induce a promotion focus, the objective was to seek the cheese at the exit. To induce a prevention focus, the objective was to escape an owl at the entrance. This approach ensures the manipulation of regulatory focus transcends the awareness of individuals (cf., Friedman & Forster, 2001).
After this putative interruption, participants returned to the monotonous clerical task. Subsequently, to measure their intrinsic motivation, participants were asked to specify the extent to which they are willing to persist with this task later.
A close examination of their work revealed that some participants varied their approach while completing the monotonous task. They might have modified their handwriting several times during the exercise. They might have alternated between upper and lower case, and so forth. As hypothesized, when a promotion focus was primed, more variations were observed, and these variations increased intrinsic motivation. Overall, individuals who adopted a promotion focus perceived the monotonous task as more interesting.
A similar pattern of findings was observed when another technique was utilized to manipulate regulatory focus (Smith, Wagaman, & Handley, 2009). Specifically, in one experiment, to evoke a promotion focus, participants specified five of their hopes and aspirations. Next, they indicated the extent to which they would ideally likely to achieve these hopes and aspirations. To evoke a prevention focus, participants specified five of their duties and obligations as well as the degree to which they were concerned with achiving these responsibilities.
Presumably, when individuals adopt a prevention focus, their attention is directed towards their obligations and responsibilities. That is, they strive to minimize shortfalls. Any deviations in their behavior might amplify these shortfalls. These individuals, hence, should not vary their approach (Smith, Wagaman, & Handley, 2009). Consistent with this argument, when individuals who adopted a prevention focus modified the task, their enjoyment of this activity seemed to diminish.
When individuals adopt a prevention focus, they are less inclined to procrastinate or to delay the pursuits of their goals. Specifically, according to Freitas, Liberman, Salovey, and Higgins (2002), when individuals adopt a prevention focus, they perceive their goals as obligatory?as targets that must be satisfied rather than objectives that could be pursued. Because these goals are conceptualized as obligatory, individuals feel obliged to pursue these objectives immediately. They become less inclined to delay these pursuits.
In contrast, as Freitas, Liberman, Salovey, and Higgins (2002) argue, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, they do not perceive their goals as obligatory?as objectives they must fulfill. As a consequence, the sense of urgency diminishes, and the pursuit of their goals is sometimes delayed.
Freitas, Liberman, Salovey, and Higgins (2002) conducted a series of studies that substantiate these propositions. In one study, participants, who were university students, were instructed to imagine they wanted to apply to secure a fellowship. The application was due in three months. Participants were then asked whether they would prefer to begin the application today, in four weeks, in eight weeks, or one day before the due date.
Interestingly, if participants exhibited a prevention focus?as gauged by measures of reaction time?they were more likely to begin the application almost immediately. In contrast, if participants exhibited a promotion focus, they often delayed this endeavor (Freitas, Liberman, Salovey, & Higgins, 2002).
Similarly, when participants received instructions that emphasizes the minimization of problems instead of the maximization of benefits?which also evokes a prevention focus?participants were less inclined to defer this application. Furthermore, in another study, participants pursued several goals at the same time. Some of the goals were represented as an attempt to minimize losses, eliciting a prevention focus. Other goals were represented as an attempt to maximize gains, eliciting a promotion focus. Participants tended to prioritize the prevention goals (Freitas, Liberman, Salovey, & Higgins, 2002).
When some individuals contemplate the future, they focus primarily on limitations and obstacles. They endorse questions such as "There are only limited possibilities in my future" (Cate & John, 2007). Other individuals primarily focus on opportunities and the prospect of achievement (Cate & John, 2007). If individuals often focus on the prospect of opportunities, but not limitations, in the future, they are more likely to experience satisfaction in life and wellbeing (Cate & John, 2007) as well as perform better at work (Zacher, Heusner, Schmitz, Zwierzanska, & Frese, 2010).
As Zacher and de Lange (2011) showed, regulatory focus affects whether or not individuals often consider opportunities or limitations in the future. Specifically, a promotion focus at one time was correlated with a focus on future opportunities three months later. In addition, a prevention focus at one time was correlated with a focus on future limitations three months later.
Individuals who adopt a promotion, not prevention, focus are more likely to feel they can influence their performance on tasks that are really dictated by random forces, such as success on a roulette wheel (Langens, 2007). Because they direct their focus on potential gains, they are more inclined to remember incidents in which they attempt to control some outcome, such as the number of on a roulette wheel, and were indeed successful. They tend to overlook the many times their attempts were futile. In addition, because these individuals strive to uncover potential gains, rather than losses, they value this sense of control. Indeed, when they feel a sense of control, their mood remains elevated, even after they fail on some task.
A promotion focus, although instilling a sense of control, can nevertheless curb self serving attributions. When individuals adopt a prevention focus, they propose few explanations to explain their failures (Molden & Higgins, 2008), probably to reduce the likelihood of erroneous statements and implausible justifications (cf Crowe & Higgins, 1997). In contrast, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, they reflect upon a broader range of causes to explain their failures. Hence, they will not confine their explanations to blaming other individuals, inadequate instructions, or demanding conditions--but will become more willing to consider their own limitations in ability of effort as well (Molden & Higgins, 2008).
Furthermore, individuals who adopt a promotion, rather than prevention, focus also tend to negotiate more effectively (Galinsky, Leonardelli, Okhuysen, & Mussweiler, 2005). In this state, individuals tend to consider the outcome they would ideally like to achieve, not the outcome they must achieve. As a consequence of their elevated hopes, they are more likely to recognize the merits of their position and will pursue these aspirations more vigorously. Furthermore, because they focus on abstract, global concepts, their capacity to sacrifice a trivial issue to ensure a key gain might improve.
Individuals who adopt a promotion focus strive to achieve progress. They like to perceive themselves as effective and competent. Hence, when they reflect upon themselves, their principal motive is self enhancement (Leonardelli, Lakin, & Arkin, 2007). Indeed, they recognize words that correspond to self esteem or enhancement, such as optimistic, more rapidly than words that corresponds to clarity, such as certain or sure (Leonardelli, Lakin, & Arkin, 2007). Likewise, after individuals fail to achieve their promotion goals--goals that relate to future progress and aspirations--self esteem but not self clarity declines (Leonardelli, Lakin, & Arkin, 2007).
Individuals who adopt a prevention focus, in contrast, strive to fulfil all obligations and expectations. Accordingly, they prefer clarity--because uncertainty increases the likelihood they might not satisfy some duty or expectation they might have overlooked. Thus, when they reflect upon themselves, their principal motive is self certainty (Leonardelli, Lakin, & Arkin, 2007). To demonstrate, they recognize words that correspond to self certainty, such as sure or doubtful, more rapidly than words that corresponds to self esteem, such as positive or bad (Leonardelli, Lakin, & Arkin, 2007). Similarly, after individuals fail to achieve their prevention goals--goals that relate to immediate duties--self clarity declines (Leonardelli, Lakin, & Arkin, 2007). That is, they endorse items such as "I feel less certain of who I am".
This finding implies, albeit tentatively, that any factors that enhance self certainty might evoke a promotion focus. To demonstrate, prevention goals often prevail over promotion goals. When one of these prevention goals--that is, to enhance self certainty--is fulfilled, promotion goals can prevail.
Several factors affect self certainty and thus could evoke a promotion focus. Clarkson, Tomala, DeSensi, and Wheeler (2009), for instance, showed that individuals feel more certain of themselves after their attitudes are reinforced. That is, self certainty depends on attitude certainty.
For example, to promote attitude certainty, participants were sometimes instructed to repeat their attitudes aloud on multiple occasions. Alternatively,they were informed that other members of their social collectives shared these attitudes. After these manipulations, individuals experienced an elevated level of self certainty. That is, individuals experienced less doubt about their abilities and were less motivated to receive personality feedback (Clarkson, Tomala, DeSensi, & Wheeler, 2009).
A promotion focus, relative to a prevention focus, tends to increase sensitivity to distractions (Freitas, Liberman, & Higgins, 2002). In particular, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, they become more sensitive to opportunities that are challenging, novel, and exciting. Their sensitivity towards novelty and excitement increases the likelihood that other conversations and events in their surroundings will distract their concentration.
A promotion focus directs attention towards global, abstract concepts, whereas a prevention focus directs attention towards local, concrete details, as Forster and Higgins (2005) confirmed. This study showed that individuals who adopt a promotion focus can readily detect large letters that are composed of smaller letters. In contrast, individuals who adopt a prevention focus can readily detect small letters embedded within larger letters. That is, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, they reflect upon future states--states in which specific details cannot be anticipated. They, therefore, rely on abstract representations (Forster & Higgins, 2005). When individuals adopt a prevention focus, in contrast, they need to identify subtle shortfalls--problems that could provoke some punitive response. Hence, they must shift their attention to concrete, observable details, not abstract, unobservable concepts.
A promotion focus can also increase the breadth of explanations or arguments. To illustrate, when individuals adopt a promotion focus rather than prevention focus, they consider a broader array of categories when they sort objects into groups (Crowe & Higgins, 1997). In contrast, individuals who adopt a prevention focus consider fewer categories when they sort objects. That is, a prevention focus encourages a motivation to minimize errors and the consideration of fewer alternatives might fulfill this objective.
Furthermore, when individuals adopt a promotion focus rather than prevention focus, their emotions are more likely to shape their decisions. When individuals experience a positive mood, for example, they tend to evaluate someone else more favorably. This effect of mood, however, is especially pronounced in individuals who adopt a promotion, rather than prevention, focus (Pham & Avnet, 2008).
In other words, for some reason, a promotion focus increases sensitivity to affective cues. Perhaps, affective states are regarded as heuristics, and vigilance, which tends to correspond to a prevention focus, inhibits any reliance on these heuristics. Furthermore, vigilance, and thus a prevention focus, increases sensitivity to external rather than internal cues.
Many studies demonstrate that a promotion focus, in general, is more likely to enhance creativity than is a prevention focus (e.g., Friedman & Forster, 2001). A promotion focus, for example, enhances the capacity of individuals to identify many novel and suitable uses of a brick, partly because this orientation focuses attention on novel opportunities and possibilities.
Nevertheless, according to Baas, De Dreu, and Nijstad (2011), the effect of regulatory focus on creativity depends on whether or not the aspirations or duties were fulfilled. Unsuccessful attempts, at either a promotion or prevention focus, should enhance creativity. Presumably, unsuccessful attempts to fulfill a goal may sustain alertness, improving effort and creativity (Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2011). Successful attempts to fulfill a promotion goal should also enhance creativity: The excitement of these achievements fosters confidence, motivating individuals to pursue steeper goals (Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2011). In contrast, successful attempts to fulfill a prevention goal, however, should hinder creativity, because the individuals already feel content and hence their level of alertness or activation decreases (Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2011).
Baas, De Dreu, and Nijstad (2011) undertook several studies that confirm these possibilities. In one study, some participants were asked to write about a situation in which they either successfully or unsuccessfully attained a positive outcome, to induce a fulfilled or unfulfilled promotion focus respectively. Alternatively, some participants were asked to write about a situation in which they either successfully or unsuccessfully avoided a negative outcome, to induce a fulfilled or unfulfilled prevention focus respectively. Next, they completed a remote associates test. That is, they were instructed to identify a term that three other words, such as envy, golf, and beans, all share?-in this instance, green.
The hypotheses were supported. Relative to the other conditions, successful attempts to fulfill a prevention goal impaired creativity, as measured by the remote associates test. Studies 2 and 3 were similar, except different methods were used to manipulate regulatory focus and measure creativity.
As Sacramento, Fay, and West (2013) showed, when tasks are especially demanding, a promotion focus is particularly likely to enhance performance relative to a prevention focus. That is, a promotion focus seems to enhance the capacity of individuals to cope with challenging demands.
In one study, for instance, participants were informed they would need to complete a task in which the demands were high or low. To evoke the belief the demands are high, some participants were informed the tasks they will complete are vital to their future, and their performance will be analyzed carefully. They were also informed the task would be very difficult. Trait regulatory focus was then measured. Finally, participants completed a measure of creativity. If informed the task was very demanding rather than not demanding, participants performed more proficiently on the creative task, but only if they reported a promotion rather than prevention focus.
Subsequent studies replicated this finding. For example, the same pattern of observations emerged when regulatory focus was manipulated rather than measured. Another study showed the same pattern of results emerged at work: that is, job demands were negatively associated with individual creativity, but only in participants or teams who reported a prevention focus. Interestingly, neither intrinsic motivation nor levels of strain mediated these relationships.
According to Sacramento, Fay, and West (2013), when individuals adopt a promotion focus, their natural response is to think more globally, facilitating novel responses, vital to creativity. In response to challenges, this tendency is activated more intensely. Alternatively, when a promotion focus is activated, individuals may perceive this challenge as an opportunity to improve rather than as a threat.
As Novak and Hoffman (2009) showed, the cognitive style of individuals also depends on regulatory focus. Specifically, when individuals adopt a prevention focus, the rational rather than experiential system prevails (see also Cognitive versus experiential systems). That is, to reach decisions or judgments, individuals apply logical, rational, and systematic processes to symbolic representations of concepts. In contrast, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, the experiential system prevails. That is, individuals utilize their intuition, hunches, and emotions to reach decisions and judgments.
In the study conducted by Novak and Hoffman (2009), some participants were instructed to deliberate over their duties and obligations, which activates a prevention focus. Subsequently, after completing another activity, these participants were more inclined to endorse items such as "I tackled this issue systematically" and "I applied precise rules to deduce the answers".
In contrast, to activate a promotion focus, participants were asked to reflect upon their hopes and aspirations. These participants were later more likely to endorse items like "I relied on my sense of intuition" and "Ideas just popped into my head".
Presumably, when individuals adopt a prevention focus, their principal objective is to minimize shortfalls. They need unambiguous and precise information--information that is primarily derived from the cognitive system (see also Higgins, 1998;; Pham & Avnet, 2004).
Relative to a prevention focus, a promotion focus tends to foster more flexible, original thinking, potentially improving the decisions that individuals reach during sports. In one study, conducted by Memmert, Huttermann, and Orliczek (2013), soccer players attempted to solve a maze on paper--a task that is intended to manipulate regulatory focus. In particular, they imagined they were a rat in a maze. Their goal was either to locate the cheese at the end, to evoke a promotion focus, or to escape from an owl, to evoke a prevention focus. Next, they watched a series of video clips, each depicting an offensive maneuver during a soccer game. Their task was to imagine they were the player and then to transcribe as many solutions or actions they could undertake in each scenario, such as how they would pass the ball, how they may shoot towards goal, and so forth. Judges then rated the originality, flexibility, and fluency of these responses. A promotion focus enhanced each of these measures of creativity.
Some people assume that existing trends will continue. For example, if the sales of some products are steadily increasing, they will tend to assume this rise will persist. Other people assume that existing trends are likely to reverse. That is, if the sales of some products are steadily increasing, they will tend to assume this rise will soon reverse and sales may drop in the future.
Regulatory focus affects whether people believe existing trends will continue or reverse (Guo & Spina, 2015). If people adopt a promotion focus, they often experience a sense of control, because they strive to fulfill personal goals rather than societal duties. Because of this sense of control, they perceive the world as more stable rather than vulnerable to unforeseen events. This sense of stability translates to the belief that existing trends are likely to continue. In contrast, if people adopt a prevention focus, they do not experience this sense if control, because they strive to satisfy the duties and obligations that are imposed by other people. The world thus seems more unstable or vulnerable to unforeseen circumstances. They are thus more inclined to assume that trends may be reversed.
Guo and Spina (2015) conducted a series of studies that vindicate this hypothesis. Participants were instructed to reflect upon future aspirations or events they would like to avoid--to induce a promotion or prevention focus respectively. Next, they responded to various scenarios, such as two individuals who had been dating at university. They were then asked whether this circumstance is likely to continue or shift, such as whether or not the relationship will continue after university. A prevention focus was associated with the belief that trends might shift. A sense of control , as measured by items like "There is little I can do to change many of the important things in my life", mediated these relationships.
Individuals who adopt a promotion focus are more likely to be convinced by arguments that refer to abstract, global benefits (Gun, Higgins, de Montes, Estourget, & Valencia, 2005). That is, these individuals tend to focus their attention on abstract concepts rather than observable details (Forster & Higgins, 2005). In contrast, individuals who adopt a prevention focus are more inclined to be convinced by arguments that allude to concrete examples (Gun et al., 2005).
Furthermore, individuals who adopt a promotion focus are often persuaded by arguments that refer to potential gains, such as "This product energizes you"--called gain framing (Lee & Aaker, 2004). In contrast, individuals who adopt a prevention focus are usually persuaded by arguments that allude to the minimization of losses, such as "This product ensures your energy will not vanish"--called loss framing (Lee & Aaker, 2004). Specifically, Lee and Aaker (2004) showed that advertisements that promulgated to products that represent growth and improvement, thus instilling a promotion focus, were more effective if the potential gains were underscored. In contrast, advertisements that promoted products that represent safety and protection, thus activating a prevention focus, were more effective if the resolution of losses was highlighted.
Accordingly, when individuals experience a promotion focus, they also prefer products or services that expedite gain and progress they prefer proposals, products, or services that are perceived as luxurious, fashionable, and include extra features (Werth & Foerster, 2007). In contrast, when individuals experience a prevention focus, they prefer products or services that preclude shortfalls and losses--proposals, products, or services that enhance safety and durability (Werth & Foerster, 2007).
In addition, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, they are more convinced by arguments that emphasize the ease or convenience of these goods or services (Keller, 2006). That is, because they experience a sense of control, these individuals are more concerned with limitations in their own ability not the constraints that other individuals impose. Thus, ease or convenience is deemed to be a key determinant of utility.
In contrast, when individuals adopt a prevention focus, they are more convinced by arguments that emphasize the potential benefits of some product or service rather than ease (Keller, 2006). These individuals reflect more on the constraints that other individuals impose, not limitations in their own capabilities. Highlighting benefits indicates that society also regards the goods or services as important--and hence societal forces are less likely to impede the merits of this product.
Likewise, when individuals adopt a promotion focus, they are more convinced by arguments that highlight how some solution, product, or service exceeds the minimum standard (Jain, Agrawal, & Maheswaran, 2006). In contrast, and perhaps more intriguingly, when individuals adopt a prevention focus, they are more convinced by arguments that highlight how some solution, product, or service merely fulfils, rather than exceeds, some minimum standard (Jain et al., 2006). If informed that some solution, product, or service exceeds rather than merely meets some standard, these individuals might assume that some other shortcoming is likely. Individuals with a prevention focus primarily consider the potential shortfall, not the benefit, of exceeding some standard. Indeed, in contrast to individuals with a promotion focus, individuals with a prevention focus prefer products or services that are modest on all attributes--not excellent on some qualities but inferior on other facets (Zhang & Mittal, 2007).
Persuasion is possibly the consequence of improved cognitive processing. Keller and Bless (2006), for example, found that when a task was consistent with an individual's regulatory focus, they were better at processing the information, thus reducing the need for cognitive restructuring (Clore, 1994). When tasks are processed efficiently, individuals may be better at allocating the information into memory so that they can evaluate the information more effectively (Aaker & Lee, 2001).
Consistent with this notion, Aaker and Lee found that when presented with a weak, rather than compelling, argument, the persuasive effects of regulatory fit were undermined. Participants, thus, were able to become more discerning of the argument.
Other mechanisms could also underpin the role of regulatory fit in persuasion. Regulatory fit, for example, has been shown to promote transportation--a feeling that individuals are transported into another world when they listen to a story. If these feelings of regulatory fit were ascribed to another source, these benefits dissipated (Vaughn, Hesse, Petkova, & Trudeau, 2009).
Specifically, in this study, regulatory fit or non-fit was induced. Next, participants read a passage or narrative. Finally, they completed the transportation scale, derived by Green and Brock (2000). This scale assesses the extent to which readers could readily and vividly imagine the events in this story as well as feel emotionally involved, a sense of suspense, oblivious to their surroundings.
Regulatory focus also affects the networking behavior of individuals. In particular, if individuals experience a promotion focus, they are more inclined to network with members of their network circle.
Specifically, in a study that was conducted by Pollack, Forster, Johnson, Coy, and Molden (2015), the participants were members of Business Networking International, a network of entrepreneurs. Besides a measure of regulatory focus, participants also indicated the degree to which they contact people in their networks, such as the number of people they meet to seek advice and discuss matters that relate to business as well as the number of people they contact over the phone. A promotion focus was positively, and a prevention focus was negatively, associated with level of networking. Presumably, individuals who report a promotion focus, and thus tend to orient their attention towards gains, are likely to recognize the benefits of networking. Individuals who report a prevention focus, and thus tend to orient their attention towards complications, are likely to consider the problems that networking can evoke, such as rejection or squandered time.
Generally, when individuals experience a promotion focus, they prefer variety: They perceive an assortment of products and brands, for example, as an opportunity to uncover opportunities.
Nevertheless, as Wu and Kao (2011) showed, in some contexts, a prevention focus evokes a preference for variety. Specifically, if people need to purchase many items simultaneously, the individuals with a prevention focus will buy an assortment of brands and alternatives. These individuals are concerned they might arrive home and then discover they have not purchased an important option or product. To prevent this loss or regret, they will purchase a diversity of alternatives.
Wu and Kao (2011) published some research that vindicates this possibility. In one study, participants imagined they were either a risky or a conservative person. They envisaged a scenario in which they need to purchase one brand of crackers from eight alternatives. Then, some of these individuals imagined they had consumed these crackers and had to purchase another brand of crackers the next day. Next, they imagined they needed to repeat this purchase over five days. Other individuals imagined they had to purchase these five packets on one day. Participants then chose which brands they would purchase.
Consistent with the hypotheses, when asked to purchase these crackers over different days, a promotion focus increased the likelihood that participants would choose a variety of packets. In contrast, when asked to purchase these crackers on one day, also consistent with hypotheses, a prevention focus increased the likelihood that participants would choose a variety of packets.
In general, individuals prefer scarce items. That is, they pay more money to purchase items that are regarded as scarce rather than common. Scarcity can be, roughly, ascribed to two sources: demand and supply. Sometimes, scarcity can be attributed to an unexpected rise in demand& everyone wants this item& after this surge in demand, few items are left. On other occasions, scarcity can be attributed to limited supply& that is, the retailer or vendor may have intentionally produced few of these items. Limited edition versions epitomize this source of scarcity.
As Ku, Kuo, and Kuo (2013) showed, when people adopt a prevention focus, they are especially sensitive to demand scarcity. That is, they will purchase items in which the demand has soared, presumably because they like to conform. Items that many people purchased are perceived as safe instead of risky. When people adopt a promotion focus, they are especially sensitive to supply scarcity. They purchase items that are considered rare. These individuals are eager to exploit risky opportunities. Ku, Kuo, and Kuo (2013) conducted a series of four studies that vindicate this possibility.
For example, in one study, participants received information about a camera. Some participants were told the camera is scarce, because few of these items were ever available. Other participants were told the camera is scarce because demand had surged. Finally, some participants were told the camera is not scarce. They then attempted to solve a maze, but were told their objective is to escape a predator, to evoke vigilance and thus a prevention focus, or to locate food, to evoke eagerness and thus a promotion focus. Finally, they were asked to indicate the extent to which they are willing to purchase the camera. If a prevention focus had been primed, participants were more likely to buy the camera that was scarce because of a surge in demand. If a promotion focus had been primed, participants were more willing to buy the camera that was scarce because of limited supply.
Regulatory focus also influences whether individuals prefer to belong to more powerful or less powerful groups, teams, and organizations, as shown by Sassenberg, Jonas, Shah, and Brazy (2010). In particular, individuals with a promotion focus prefer powerful groups. These groups tend to be more oriented towards advancing their success and fulfilling achievements than security and safety, resonating with the needs of individuals who adopt a promotion focus. Conversely, individuals with a prevention focus sometimes prefer groups that are not as powerful. These groups tend to be oriented towards security and safety, resonating with the needs of individuals who adopt a prevention focus.
To illustrate, in one study, a promotion or prevention focus was induced. Next, participant rated 16 groups, such as teachers, politicians, and scientists, on three characteristics. In particular, they rated the degree to which they would like to be a member of this group, the extent to which the group was powerful or influential, and the degree to which they felt the group was prestigious.
If a promotion focus had been induced, participants were more inclined to want to be a member of the groups they felt were powerful, regardless of whether or not they were prestigious. When a prevention focus had been induced, participants were also more inclined to want to be a member of the groups they felt were powerful, but to a significantly lesser extent. The benefits of power were not as pronounced.
In contrast to people who report a prevention focus, people who report a promotion focus tend to be more receptive to support from other individuals (Righetti & Kumashiro, 2012). Presumably, a promotion focus encourages individuals to consider the benefits, instead of the risks, of social support. They consider, for example, the insights they might accrue instead of the embarrassment they may feel.
Furthermore, people who report a prevention focus do not engage in the goals of their partners appreciably. Arguably, these individuals are too concerned with their own duties (Righetti and Kumashiro, 2012).
These possibilities were demonstrated by Righetti and Kumashiro (2012). In one of their studies, participants first completed a scale that gauges the extent to which people exhibit a promotion focus and a prevention focus. Next, participants transcribed three of their aspirations or three of their duties. Then, all participants completed questions that reflect the degree to which they have sought support to achieve these goals, epitomized by questions such as "I pay close attention to the suggestions and advice that this person gives me" or "I talk about this goal with (a significant other) and seek his or her support". Finally, participants completed questions that gauge the degree to which they assist their partner reach their goals, such as "I feel so devoted to my own goals that I do not have much time or resources to help this person accomplish his or her (duties)".
Promotion focus was positively, and prevention focus was negatively, associated with receptivity to support. In addition, prevention focus was inversely associated with the tendency to assist partners with their goals. The second study showed that individuals who report a promotion focus were especially inclined to support the aspirations of their partners. A promotion focus, therefore, may be helpful to some facets of relationships& nevertheless, people who report this orientation are also more inclined to explore alternative partners (for a review, see Righetti and Kumashiro, 2012).
When a promotion focus, instead of a prevention focus, is primed or dominant, people are more likely to be aware of their personal values, interests, and characteristics. That is, the self is more likely to be accessible, analogous to a personal rather than collective self-construal.
To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Brebels, De Cremer, and Sedikides (2008), the regulatory focus of people were manipulated. Specifically, participants completed a computer task in which they assumed the role of a mouse, striving to negotiate a maze, either to capture a piece of cheese, evoking a promotion focus, or to escape an owl, evoking a prevention focus. Next, they were asked to write about anything they liked. If a promotion focus, instead of a prevention focus, had been primed, participants were more likely to refer to first person pronouns, such as I and me, reflecting self-activation.
Subsequent studies showed that a promotion focus increased the likelihood of retaliation to a perceived injustice. Self-activation mediated this effect. Presumably, when a promotion focus is primed, the self is activated, and people become more competitive instead of cooperative, increase their willingness to retaliate aggressively (Brebels, De Cremer, & Sedikides, 2008).
Regulatory focus affects the attitudes of employees to the mood of leaders. Unsurprisingly, leaders who show anxiety, irritation, and other negative states are obviously perceived unfavorably by employees. Interestingly, negative affect in leaders is especially likely to provoke unfavorable ratings when employees adopt a promotion focus instead of a prevention focus. That is, if employees adopt a prevention focus, they recognize that negative affect in leaders could facilitate their goals. Anxiety or agitation enables individuals to identify shortfalls, curbing any deviations from their duties and obligations (Gaddis, Connelly, & Mumford, 2004).
For example, in one study, conducted by Gaddis, Connelly, and Mumford (2004), participants received feedback from a leader. The leader displayed either negative states or positive states. Later, participants evaluated the performance of these leaders. If these participants had been assigned promotion goals, instead of prevention goals, leaders who displayed negative affect were especially likely to be perceived unfavorably.
Research indicates that regulatory focus might be related to aggressive tendencies or behaviors. Specifically, when a prevention focus is evoked, aggression might become more likely.
Keller, Hurst, and Uskul (2009) reported a series of studies that confirm this association between a prevention focus and aggression. In Study 1, for example, participants completed scales that assess chronic regulatory focus, cynical hostility, and aggression. Cynical hostility was gauged by items that represent the extent to which participants assume the motivations of other individuals are competitive and uncaring (Cook & Medley, 1954). A typical item is "Most people will use somewhat unfair means to fain profit or an advantage rather than to lose it". Aggression was gauged by a scale, developed by Buss and Perry (1992), that represents the degree to which individuals exhibit anger, express aggression verbally, and feel hostile or suspicious. A prevention focus was positively related to both cynicism and aggression. A promotion focus was unrelated to aggression.
Study 2 extended Study 1, but also examined potential mediators. The association between a prevention focus and aggression was partly mediated by reciprocity of norm beliefs (Keller,Hurst, & Uskul, 2009), gauged by items such as "If someone dislikes you, you should dislike them". Similarly, in Study 3, the association between a prevention focus and aggression was especially pronounced when some norm was violated (Keller,Hurst, & Uskul, 2009).
Presumably, when individuals adopt a prevention focus, they strive to fulfill normative standard. They attempt to satisfy the behaviors and tendencies that pervade the immediate social context. This sensitivity to normative standards might increase the likelihood that individuals reciprocate the actions of someone else (Eisenberger, Lynch, Aselage, & Rohdieck, 2004). Because of this inclination, these individuals will often reciprocate the undesirable behavior of someone else--which could manifest as aggression.
Neuroticism also mediated the relationship between a prevention focus and aggression. That is, neuroticism might represent the emotional underpinnings of a prevention focus (cf., Higgins, 1998). The anxiety and worry that corresponds to neuroticism sometimes translates into aggressive behavior (Bettencourt, Talley, Benjamin, & Valentine, 2006).
In addition to this sensitivity to norm violations and neuroticism, a prevention focus might also direct attention towards hostile cues. That is, a prevention focus increases the sensitivity of individuals to negative cues. Over time, they might become more inclined to perceive other individuals as hostile (Keller,Hurst, & Uskul, 2009).
Similar to the literature on peruasion, researchers have shown that some apologies fit the regulatory focus of individuals and, therefore, are perceived as more convincing (Santelli, Struthers, & Eaton, 2009). That is, some apologies focus on gains and progress, such as "I will do whatever I can to regain your trust" or "I am hopeful our relationship can more forward". These apologies are effective when the other person adopts a promotion focus (Santelli, Struthers, & Eaton, 2009).
In contrast, some apologies focus on attempts to minimize loss or obligations, such as "I feel obligated to do whatever I can not to lose your trust" or "I feel it's my duty to improve our relationships". These apologies are effective when the other person adopts a prevention focus.
In general, people in advantaged groups, such as wealthy White males in America, are inclined to reject policies that increase equality. They often want to maintain their existing privileges.
However, as Does, Derks, and Ellemers (2011) showed, when individuals perceive equality as a moral ideal, instead of a moral obligation, similar to a promotion rather than prevention focus, they are more likely to accept egalitarian policies. In one study, participants read a bogus newspaper article, emphasizing the disparities between native Dutch and non-native Dutch in the workforce. For example, the article highlighted that native Dutch tend to be paid more, even if their qualifications are the same, as other individuals in the Netherlands.
Next, participants were asked to specify either moral ideas or moral obligations associated with equality and tolerance. For example, some participants were instructed to specify how they could achieve the ideal to enhance equality. Other participants were instructed to specify how they could meet their obligation to enhance equality.
Finally, participants received a description of an affirmation action: a training program dedicated to non-native Dutch individuals. They were asked to indicate the extent to which they support affirmation action. If participants had considered moral ideals, instead of moral obligations, they were more likely to support affirmative action, even after controlling mood.
A subsequent study was similar, except other measures were included. For example, this study showed that a reflection on moral ideals, instead of moral obligations, increases the likelihood that individuals perceive cultural diversity as an asset and are willing to suspend their own promotion to promote equality. When the study focussed on issues around competence, instead of morality, this benefits of ideals were not observed (Does, Derks, & Ellemers, 2011).
Conceivably, when individuals consider ideals instead of obligations, a promotion focus or approach motivation is activated. Individuals focus on the benefits, and not the drawbacks, of equality. Furthermore, an approach motivation diminishes the inclination to avoid or shun minorities as a means to prevent discrimination (Does, Derks, & Ellemers, 2011) hence, individuals embrace diversity.
Regulatory focus might also affect whether individuals form additive or subtractive counterfactuals, as defined by Markman, Lindberg, Kray, and Galinsky (2007). To illustrate, after some event, such as a failed venture, individuals often contemplate the outcomes that could have emerged had they acted differently. Sometimes, they consider additional acts they should have conducted, called an additive counterfactual. On other occasions, they consider acts they did conduct but should have avoided, called a subtractive counterfactual.
A promotion focus coincides with maximizing gains, more consistent with an additive counterfactual. A prevention focus coincides with minimizing losses, which is more consistent with a subtractive counterfactual, as discussed by Epstude & Roese (2008)
A variety of experimental protocols have been developed to manipulate regulatory focus, at least transiently (see also Florack & Scarabis, 2006). In essence, to activate a promotion or prevention focus, researchers can increase the salience of gains or losses. Alternatively, researchers can emphasize needs that relate to nurturance and achievement or safety and protection. Finally, researchers can prime either aspirations or duties (for more information about these procedures, see Manipulations of regulatory focus).
Various experiences and traits influence the regulatory focus that individuals will tend to adopt--designated as chronic regulatory focus. For example, according to Higgins, Friedman, Harlow, Idson, Ayduk, and Taylor (2001), individuals who have experienced success with a promotion focus in the past, such as received rewards when they achieve some inspiring accomplishment, will tend to adopt this orientation. Likewise, individuals who have experienced success with a prevention focus--perhaps they were not punished because they had fulfilled some duty--will often adopt this orientation.
To clarify, some parents engage in a bolstering mode, in which offer appreciable rewards such as physical embrace or verbal praise, when their children fulfill some desirable goal, as defined by Higgins and Silberman (1998). This mode is assumed to instill a promotion focus in children--an orientation that might persist throughout adulthood. Consistent with this proposition, Keller (2008) showed that individuals who report a promotion focus are more likely to describe their parents as authoritative--in which they offer affection, praise, and understanding when appropriate. In contrast, some parents engage in a critical or punitive mode, punishing children who do not fulfill prescribed standards, and this mode is assumed to cultivate a prevention focus. Indeed, Keller (2008) showed that individuals who report a prevention focus are more inclined to perceive their parents as authoritarian--in which they were frequently critical and punitive.
The culture of an organization or society could also affect the regulatory focus of individuals. For example, Aaker, Fournier, and Brasel (2004) showed that customers are less likely to focus their attention on errors, thus manifesting a promotion focus, when the organization presents an exciting, youthful, and trendy brand. This finding implies the brand or culture of an organization could shape the regulatory focus of stakeholders.
Several findings indicate that an independent self construal, in which individuals are more cognizant of their unique goals and characteristics--more prevalent in Western cultures--could foster a promotion rather than prevention focus. In contrast, and interdependent self construal, in which individuals are more aware of the relationships with other people or groups--more prevalent in East Asian cultures--could foster a prevention focus instead (see Self construal theory).
In a study conducted by Hamilton and Biehal (2005), participants were encouraged either to focus on their own enjoyment, which corresponds to an independent self construal, or their relationships, which corresponds to an interdependent self construal. Individuals encouraged to adopt an interdependent self construal were more inclined to select alternatives that guarantee safety and security rather than uncertain growth and achievement. This preference aligns with the choices that a prevention focus tends to evoke.
The leadership style of supervisors and managers can also shape the regulatory focus of employees. Some leaders, for example, demonstrate a style called initiating structure. These leaders are very directive, specifying their expectations of employees--goals, deadlines, policies, laws, regulations, and obligations-- with clarity. These leaders often stipulate the methods that employees should apply, the priorities these individuals should adopt, and the targets that should be reached (Fleishman, 1973, 1998).
According to Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, and Roberts (2008), this style should instill a prevention focus. Because these leaders emphasize expectations that need to be fulfilled, they imply that employees should comply with these standards and minimize shortfalls. Employees, therefore, focus on their more immediate and specific duties and responsibilities rather than hopes and aspirations, representing a prevention focus.
In contrast, some leaders exhibit a style called servant leadership (Greenleaf, 2002). The primary objective of these leaders is to encourage the growth and wellbeing of their employees. Their main interest is the welfare of both employees and the community more generally. In addition to understanding and accommodating the needs of employees, they inspire these individuals to serve the community as well.
Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, and Roberts (2008) maintain that servant leadership should evoke a promotion focus in employees. That is, the servant leader directs attention to goals and aspirations that transcend the immediate environment or urgent obligations. Instead, employees orient their attention to growth and progress in the future--in both themselves and the community more generally. A focus on future progress and abstract values epitomizes a promotion focus.
Consistent with these propositions, Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, and Roberts (2008) showed that initiating structure in leaders was related to a prevention focus in employees, whereas servant leadership was related to a promotion focus. That is, in their study, a sample of 250 employees completed instruments that assess the extent to which their supervisors initiated structure and demonstrated servant leadership. Employees also completed a work regulatory focus scale, developed for this study. Three weeks later, the in-role performance, deviant behavior, helping behavior, and creative behavior of these employees was gauged, using self report measures.
Initiating structure was positive related to in-role performance but inversely related to deviant behavior. These relationships were mediated by a prevention focus. Servant leadership was positively associated with helping and creative behavior--relationships that were mediated by a promotion focus.
Several procedures and measures have been developed to gauge regulatory focus. Some of these procedures assess the accessibility of aspirations or duties. If aspirations seem accessible, individuals are assumed to adopt a promotion focus. If duties are accessible, individuals are assumed to adopt a prevention focus. Other procedures involve self report (see Higgins, Friedman, Harlow, Idson, Ayduk, & Taylor, 2001;; Lockwood, Jordan, & Kunda, 2002;; Ouschan, Boldero, Kashima, Wakimoto, and Kashima, 2007;; for more information on these procedures and measures, see Measures of regulatory focus).
Although research has demonstrated promotion and prevention systems occupy the same brain regions as the approach and avoidance systems (see page on approach and avoidance), more recent fMRI evidence suggests an alternative argument (Cunningham, Raye & Johnson, 2005). Both promotion and prevention systems are thought to occupy the same brain regions: the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and right precentral gyrus (Cunningham, et al. 2005). Participants were presented with positive and negative words such as "babies" and "terrorism" and were required to indicate whether such words were "good" or "bad". When processing negative stimuli, these brain regions were activated when adopting a prevention focus. Similarly, when adopting a promotion focus, positive stimuli activated the same regions.
Cunningham and colleagues (2005) suggest that these brain regions evolved to identify motivationally relevant stimuli. Approach and avoidance systems, although related to promotion and prevention systems, are distinct phenomena.
In many instances, especially when creativity and exploration is championed, a promotion focus should be cultivated. A variety of strategies can be applied to cultivate a promotion focus.
To encourage a promotion focus, counselors, coaches, and supervisors can present a metaphor that Hayes, Strosahl, and Wilson (1999) refer to as Joe the Bum. Individuals are invited to imagine they have invited neighbors to a housewarming party. Everyone is welcome, and you even advertise your party at the local supermarket. Unfortunately, you discover that Joe the Bum, a man who lives behind the dumpster at the supermarket, reeking of unwashed clothes, appears. He embarrasses you, acting unbecoming and inappropriately.
You can pursue two options. First, you could ask him to leave, forgoing your initial principle that everyone is welcome. However, if you pursue this option, the party changes. You need to guard the door to ensure he does not return. Alternatively, you need to ensure he remains in the kitchen rather than interact with other guests. As a consequence, you cannot enjoy the party. Second, you could welcome him, permitting him to mingle, despite your concerns. Your opinion of him--your worries and embarrassment might remain--but you can nevertheless be willing to accept him and enjoy the party regardless. That is, you can continue to pursue your hopes and aspirations, even if you experience a few feelings, thoughts, or memories you do not like.
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Last Update: 5/25/2016