Self-regulation and Regulatory Focus Theory: Regulation in Response to Goal Discrepancy Feedback in a Regulatory Focus Framework

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Virginia Tech


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.



Regulatory focus theory, goal discrepancy feedback, self-regulation, within person approach, risk, goal pursuit strategy