Self-regulation and Regulatory Focus Theory: Regulation in Response to Goal Discrepancy Feedback in a Regulatory Focus Framework
Gladfelter, Jessica Anne
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Regulatory focus theory is a motivational orientation theory encompassing two regulatory systems: promotion focus and prevention focus. Promotion focused individuals tend to seek success, implement risky tactics, and an eager goal pursuit. Prevention focused individuals tend to avoid failure, implement conservative tactics, and a vigilant goal pursuit. Scholer and Higgins (2011) propose an exception to the rule where individuals break the natural RF alignment, which individuals typically seek to maintain. Scholer and Higgins (2011) proposed that promotion (prevention) focused individuals in a state of gain (loss) become conservative (riskier) in their behavior while maintaining an eager (vigilant) goal pursuit. However, literature supporting this theory is between-subjects in methodology and does not measure GP strategy, only risk. The current study proposes two competing regulation patterns: 1) When individuals change in their risk, they maintain their GP strategy 2) when individuals change in their risk, their GP strategy also changes, becoming more eager with higher levels of risk and more vigilant with more conservative behavior. Therefore, the following study examined how tactics and GP strategies change within-person when experiencing loss and gain states. Specifically, examining change in risk and GP after positive and negative goal discrepancy feedback. In order to examine this self-regulation, participants who were primed to be in either a promotion or prevention focused state played three rounds of a simple risk-measuring game. Even though the RF prime did not produce the expected results, there was regulation occurring. After recategorizing the baseline risk and GP to create a high risk /eager GP and a low risk /vigilant GP groups, there was support for the idea that as behavior changes to be riskier, so too does GP change to become more eager. This finding is in contradiction to Scholer and Higgins' (2011) theory that there is a cognitive reappraisal of what it means to be risky, such that it can fit within the vigilant goal pursuit strategy. Additionally, latent profile analyses further supported the second of the competing regulation patterns, in that higher risk-taking corresponded with eager GP, and more conservative behaviors led to greater levels of vigilant GP. Future directions and limitations are discussed.
General Audience Abstract
Regulatory focus theory has two motivational orientations: promotion focus encompassing those who seek success and avoid the absence of success and prevention focus encompassing those who avoid failure and seek the absence of failure. Scholer and Higgins (2011) describe a level approach to regulatory focus where individuals typically seek alignment throughout these levels. However, they note an exception to the rule where individuals implement tactics incongruent with their current regulatory focus system. They propose that individuals maintain this incongruency by cognitively redefining the tactics to align with the current regulatory focus system. Drawing from this exception to the rule, and from Lord et al.'s (2010) self-regulation model, two competing self-regulation patterns were examined: 1) When individuals change in their risk behaviors, they maintain their current regulatory focus system 2) when individuals change in their risk behaviors, it causes bottom-up self-regulation and changes individuals' regulatory focus system to match the risk behavior. In order to test these competing regulation patterns, participants completed a writing task meant to place them in either a promotion or prevention regulatory focus state. They then played three rounds of a simple risk-measuring game. In addition, after each round of the game, the participants' goal pursuit strategies were measured to see if the general strategy changed as risk behaviors changed. In order to necessitate a change in in levels of risk, between rounds, participants were given negative and positive feedback (in a random order). Negative feedback was meant to cause individuals to be risky and positive feedback was meant to lead to more conservative behaviors from the participants. Results indicated the regulatory focus prime did not work, however, after examining exploratory analyses, there was some support for the idea that individuals implement self-regulation in order for their regulatory focus system to match their behaviors.
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