Individuals can adopt two distinct strategies or orientations when they pursue goals (Higgins, 1997, 1998, 1999a& for more information, see Regulatory focus theory). 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).
Several procedures and measures have been developed to gauge regulatory focus (for a recent measure, see Sassenberg, Ellemers, & Scheepers, 2012, in Appendix A). 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).
Many researchers, such as Higgins, Shah, and Friedman (1997), assess the accessibility of aspirations or obligations to gauge the chronic regulatory focus of individuals. In particular, participants are asked to specify the attributes to which they feel aspired to exhibit or feel obliged to exhibit, one at a time. After they enter each attribute into the computer, they are asked to rate the degree to which they aspired to exhibit this attribute--or feel obliged to exhibit this attribute. In addition, they rate the extent to which they do indeed demonstrate this attribute. The time that is needed to rate each attribute reflects the accessibility of this aspiration or obligation& rapid responses indicate the attribute is accessible and thus important (see also Molden & Higgins, 2008).
To illustrate, Freitas, Liberman, Salovey, and Higgins (2002) assessed the reaction time of participants to questions about their duties and aspirations. Participants were asked to specify some aspirations as well as some obligations-in a pseudorandom order. Next, participants evaluated the extent to which they would ideally likely to exhibit, as well as currently exhibit, the aspirations. Finally, the participants evaluated the degree to which they feel they should exhibit, as well as currently exhibit, the obligations.
The reaction time of all these responses were recorded. Rapid responses to the questions that relate to aspirations reflect a promotion focus. In contrast, rapid responses to the questions that relate to obligations reflect a prevention focus. Cronbach's alpha was .71 for both promotion and prevention focus respectively.
Ouschan, Boldero, Kashima, Wakimoto, and Kashima (2007) developed a measure, called the regulatory focus strategies scale (RFSS), that examines the perceived utility of promotion or preventing strategies. The instrument comprises 16 items& 8 items assess endorsement of promotion strategies and 8 items assess endorsement of preventing strategies. Individuals specify the extent to which they agree or disagree with these statements.
Examples of items that relate to a promotion focus include "To avoid failure, you have to be enthusiastic". "You have to take risks if you want to avoid failing", "Taking risks are essential to succes", and "To achieve something, you need to be optimistic". Examples of items that relate to a prevention focus include "To avoid failure, one has to be careful", "Being cautious is the best policy for success", and "To achieve something, one must be cautious". Note that both sets of items include statements that relat to optimizing success and avoiding failure.
Ouschan, Boldero, Kashima, Wakimoto, and Kashima (2007) showed that endorsement of promotion strategies correlates with optimism, extraversion, behavioral activation, and sensitivity to reward. Endorsement of prevention strategies is related to pessimism, neuroticism, behavioral inhibition, and sensitivity to punishment.
Interestingly, endorsement of promotion and prevention strategies is unrelated to the regulatory focus questionnaire, as developed by Higgins, Friedman, Harlow, Idson, Ayduk, and Taylor (2001). The RFSS revolves around current beliefs about the utility of promotion and prevention strategies. The regulatory focus questionnaire revolves around past experiences with success and failure.
Regulatory Focus Questionnaire, as developed by Higgins, Friedman, Harlow, Idson, Ayduk, and Taylor (2001), comprises 11 items. According to these authors, previous success, throughout childhood and adolescence, with eagerness strategies orients individuals towards a promotion focus& previous success with vigilant strategiesorients individuals towards a prevention focus.
Hence, the 11 statements describe strategies associated with a promotion focus, like "How often have you accomplished things that got you 'psyched' to work even harder", or strategies associated with a prevention focus, like "How often did you obey rules and regulations that were established by your parents". A variety of response options are provided.
Internal consistency for both subscales is acceptable, with alpha coefficients of .73 and .80 for the promotion and prevention scales, respectively (Higgins, Friedman, Harlow, Idson, Ayduk, & Taylor, 2001). Test-retest reliability over a period of two months generated correlations of r =.79 and .81 with the promotion and prevention scales, respectively (Higgins, Friedman, Harlow, Idson, Ayduk, & Taylor, 2001).
The two scales were only modestly correlated (r = .21). Test-retest reliability over a period of two months generated correlations of r = .79 and .81 with the promotion and prevention scales, respectively (Higgins, Friedman, Harlow, Idson, Ayduk, & Taylor, 2001). Confirmatory factor analysis has vindicated the two factors.
Lockwood, Jordan, and Kunda (2002) developed a measure of regulatory focus, called the General Regulatory Focus Measure, which ascertains the extent to which participants pursue goals that relate to either promotion or prevention focus. Eight items represent a promotion focus, which reflects the extent to which individuals focus on their hopes and aspirations (e.g., "I frequently imagine how I will achieve my hopes and aspirations"). Similarly, eight items represent a prevention focus, which reflects the extent to which individuals pursue their duties and responsibilities (e.g., "In general, I am focused on preventing negative events in my life"). Cronbach's alpha approximated .81 for promotion focus and .75 for prevention focus (Lockwood, Jordan, & Kunda, 2002).
Interestingly, individuals with a promotion focus, as measured by this scale, are more likely to be motivated by positive role models. In contrast, individuals with a prevention focus are more likely to be motivated by negative role models.
Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, Chonko, and Roberts (2008) developed a measure of work regulatory focus--that is the regulatory focus of individuals in a work environment. This measure comprises 18 items. Specifically, prevention focus is represented by nine items, which represent the extent to which participants strive to maintain security (e.g., "I concentrate on completing my work tasks correctly to increase my job security), to pursue their duties (e.g., "Fulfilling my work duties is very important to me"), and to minimize losses (e.g., "I focus my attention of avoiding failure at work").
Promotion focus is also represented by nine items. These items represent the degree to which respondents strive to realize achievements (e.g., "A chance to grow is an important factor for me when looking for a job"), to pursue aspirations (e.g., "At work, I am motivated by my hopes and aspirations"), and to maximize gains (e.g., "I tend to take risks at work in order to achieve success").
Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, Chonko, and Roberts (2008) developed this scale to ensure the measure represents needs--that is, security versus achievement---self guides--that is, ought and ideals--as well as means to achieve goals--that is, eagerness versus vigilance. Alpha reliability was .93 and .91 for prevention and promotion respectively (Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, Chonko, & Roberts, 2008). Furthermore, consistent with hypothesis, a prevention focus mediated the association between initiating structure and in role or deviant behavior. In contrast, a promotion focus mediated the association between servant leadership and helping or creative behavior.
Several other measures have been developed to assess chronic regulatory focus. Keller and Bless (2008), for example, utilized a scale. An item that gauges promotion focus is "In situations in which my performance is being judged, I often feel the desire to do well". An item that gauges prevention focus is "In situations in which my performance is being judged, I often feel tense and unwell". Alpha internal consistency approximated .80 and .73 for promotion and prevention respectively. Nevertheless, the report in which this scale was validated had yet to be published by the time Keller and Bless (2008) submitted their article.
Summerville and Roese (2008) evaluated some of these measures of regulatory focus, particularly the Regulatory Focus Questionnaire and the General Regulatory Focus Measure. First, they found the Regulatory Focus Questionnaire, in contrast to the General Regulatory Focus Measure, was not related to approach and avoidance as predicted. That is, a promotion focus should be related to an inclination to approach opportunities, and a prevention focus should be related to an inclination to avoid complications. However, prevention focus, as measured by the Regulatory Focus Measure, did not correlate with avoidance.
Second, a close examination of the General Regulatory Focus Measure showed that items relating to absence of gains, which epitomizes a promotion focus, were correlated with items relating to losses, which epitomizes a prevention focus, but not items related to gains. Similarly, items associated with the reduction of losses, which represents a prevention focus, were correlated with items relating to the absence of gains not the experiences of losses.
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Keller, J. (2008). On the development of regulatory focus: The role of parenting styles. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 354-364.
Keller, J., & Bless, H. (2008). When positive and negative expectancies disrupt performance: Regulatory focus as a catalyst. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 187-212.
Lockwood, P., Jordan, C. H., & Kunda, Z. (2002). Motivation by positive and negative role models: Regulatory focus determines who will best inspire us. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 854-864.
Neubert, M. J., Kacmar, M., Carlson, D. S., Chonko, L. B., & Roberts, J. A. (2008). Regulatory focus as a mediator of the influence of initiating structure and servant leadership on employee behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 1220-1233.
Ouschan, L., Boldero, J. M., Kashima, Y., Wakimoto, R., && Kashima, E. S. (2007). The regulatory focus strategies scale (RFSS): A measure of individuals differences in the endorsement of regulatory strategies. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 243-257.
Sassenberg, K., Ellemers, N., & Scheepers, D. (2012). The attraction of social power: The influence of construing power as opportunity versus responsibility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 550-555. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.11.008
Summerville, A., & Roese, N. J. (2008). Self-Report measures of individual differences in regulatory focus: A cautionary note. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 247-254.
Last Update: 6/28/2016