Regulatory Focus


Regulatory focus theory posits two separate and independent self-regulatory orientations: prevention and promotion (Higgins, 1997). A prevention focus emphasizes safety, responsibility, and security needs. Goals are viewed as oughts and there is a strategic concern with approaching non-losses (the absence of negatives) and avoiding losses (the presence of negatives). A promotion focus emphasizes hopes, accomplishments, and advancement needs. Goals are viewed as ideals, and there is a strategic concern with approaching gains (the presence of positives) and avoiding non-gains (the absence of positives). Regulatory focus is a state and can differ both across individuals (chronic regulatory focus) and across situations (momentary regulatory focus). Chronic regulatory focus is measured using the Regulatory Focus Questionnaire (Higgins et al., 2001) or the Regulatory Focus Strength measure. Momentary regulatory focus can be primed or induced.
            Each regulatory orientation has its own preferred strategy. A vigilant strategy ensures the absence of negatives (non-losses) and ensures against the presence of negatives (losses). A prevention focus and a vigilant strategy both operate in terms of non-losses and losses, and are especially sensitive to the difference between “0” and “-1” (maintenance). An eager strategy ensures the presence of positives (gains) and ensures against the absence of positives (non-gains). A promotion focus and an eager strategy both operate in terms of gains and non-gains, and are especially sensitive to the difference between “0” and “+1” (attainment). Thus, someone who is chronically or situationally prevention-focused generally prefers a vigilant strategy, and someone who is chronically or situationally promotion-focused generally prefers an eager strategy (Crowe & Higgins, 1997).


Regulatory Focus Representive Publications:

Crowe, E., & Higgins, E. T. (1997). Regulatory focus and strategic inclinations: Promotion and prevention in decision making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 69, 117-132.


pdfHiggins, E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist, 52, 1280-1300.


pdfHiggins, E. T., Friedman, R. S., Harlow, R. E., Idson, L. C., Ayduk, O. N., & Taylor, A. (2001). Achievement orientations from subjective histories of success: Promotion pride versus prevention pride. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31, 3-23.


Regulatory Mode


Regulatory mode theory, developed in collaboration with Arie Kruglanski and Antonio Pierro, makes a distinction between two fundamental components of effective self-regulation: assessment and locomotion (Higgins, Kruglanski, & Pierro, 2003; Kruglanski et al. 2000). Assessment is the aspect of self-regulation involved in making comparisons and evaluations (e.g., comparing goals or means, comparing oneself against some standard). Locomotion is the aspect of self-regulation involved in moving from state to state (initiating movement away from some current state, sustaining smooth movement in goal pursuit). While both aspects are critical for effective self-regulation, regulatory mode theory argues that locomotion and assessment are functionally independent, such that individuals can differ both chronically and temporarily in their emphasis on one mode over the other. The emphasis on one mode over another has interesting implications for how individuals make decisions, evaluate self and others, respond to obstacles, and generally navigate the social world. Chronic locomotion and assessment is measured via the Regulatory Mode Questionnaire (RMQ; Kruglanski et al., 2000). 


Regulatory Mode Representive Publications:

Higgins, E. T., Kruglanski, A. W., Pierro, A. (2003). Regulatory mode: Locomotion and assessment as distinct orientations. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 35, pp. 293-344). New York: Academic Press.


pdfKruglanski, A. W., Thompson, E. P., Higgins, E. T., Atash, M. N., Pierro, A., Shah, J. Y., & Spiegel, S. (2000). To do the right thing! or to just do it!: Locomotion and assessment as distinct self-regulatory imperatives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 793-815.


Regulatory Fit


Your orientation to a goal can be either sustained (regulatory fit) or disrupted (regulatory non-fit) by the strategy you use. Regulatory fit theory suggests that a match between orientation to a goal and the means used to approach that goal produces a state of regulatory fit that both creates a feeling of rightness about the goal pursuit and increases task engagement (Higgins, 2000, 2005). Regulatory fit intensifies responses (i.e. positive responses become more positive and negative responses become more negative), such as the value of a chosen object (Avnet & Higgins, 2003; Higgins et al., 2003), persuasion (Cesario, Higgins, & Scholer, 2007), and job satisfaction (Kruglanski, Pierro, & Higgins, 2007).
Regulatory fit is a broad theory about the general effects of fit, which are consistent across the different sources of fit. Although regulatory fit can arise from a match between any orientation and its preferred strategy, it has been most commonly investigated using regulatory focus (see for example Cesario, Higgins, & Scholer, 2007; Higgins et al., 2003) and regulatory mode (see for example Avnet & Higgins, 2003; Kruglanski, Pierro, & Higgins, 2007). Regulatory fit can be manipulated incidentally (outside the context of interest) or integrally (within the context of interest).


Regulatory Fit Representive Publications:

Avnet, T., & Higgins, E. T. (2003). Locomotion, assessment and regulatory fit: Value transfer from "How" To "What". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 525-530.


pdfCesario, J., Higgins, E. T., & Scholer, A. A. (2007). Regulatory fit and persuasion: Basic principles and remaining questions. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(1), 444-463.


Higgins, E. T. (2000). Making a good decision: Value from fit. American Psychologist, 55, 1217-1230.


Higgins, E. T. (2005). Value from regulatory fit. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 209-213.


Higgins, E. T., Idson, L., Freitas, A., Spiegel, S., & Molden, D. (2003). Transfer of value from fit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1140-1153.



Regulatory Engagement


Regulatory engagement theory proposes that value is a motivational force of attraction to or repulsion from something, and that strength of engagement contributes to value intensity independent of hedonic and other sources of value direction. As a motivational force experience, the value experience varies not only in direction but also in intensity.  For instance, an individual can experience attraction as relatively weak or strong (low or high positive value) or can experience repulsion as relatively weak or strong (low or high negative value). The two force experiences of direction and intensity, while experienced holistically, are distinct from one another with respect to their sources. That is, there can be contributions to the experience of value intensity that are independent of value direction. What is unique about the regulatory engagement model is its consideration of sources of value intensity that are nondirectional. Rather, they are sources of engagement strength which contribute to the intensity, but not the direction, of the value force experience.

The more strongly an individual is engaged (i.e., involved, occupied, fully engrossed) in an activity, the more intense the motivational force experience. In other words, engagement serves as an intensifier of the directional component of the value experience. Consequently, an individual who is more strongly engaged in goal pursuit will experience a positive target more positively and a negative target more negatively. Sources of engagement strength that have been explored in our lab include opposing interfering forces, overcoming personal resistance, regulatory fit, use of proper means, and high experienced expectancy.

Current research involves differentiating between the contribution of strength of engagement to the value intensity of the object itself and the contribution of different sources of engagement strength to the experiential quality of goal pursuit itself. This is an exciting new area of research in the lab with much left to explore.


Regulatory Engagement Representive Publications:

Higgins, E. T. (2006). Value from hedonic experience and engagement. Psychological Review, 113, 439-460.


Higgins, E.T., & Scholer, A.A. (in press). Engaging the consumer: The science and art of the value creation process. Journal of Consumer Psychology.



Shared Reality


The lab has discovered that humans are motivated to share reality with our partners in communication. Work on shared reality has revealed that successful communication requires that communicators take into account each others’ characteristics, such as the other’s presumed knowledge, intentions, and attitudes, when transmitting information. For instance, communicators tend to adapt their messages to the perceived reality of the audience, ‘tuning’ their message to the particular audience. Audience tuning not only affects the messages people transmit to their audience, it also shapes the communicator’s subsequent representations and memories of the message topic. This is called the ‘saying-is-believing’ effect. Several studies have found that communicators end up believing and remembering what they say (their tuned message to a particular audience) rather than what they originally learned about the target person’s behaviors!


Shared Reality Representive Publications:

pdfEchterhoff, G., Higgins, E. T., & Groll, S. (2005). Audience-tuning effects on memory: The role of shared reality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 257-276.




The concept of accessibility was initially proposed by cognitive psychologists to indicate the degree in which a mental representation is currently active in one's mind. Building on this work, research in the lab has established the role of accessibility of concepts and personal goals in determining human social perception, decision-making and behavior.
Our research has also contributed to the differentiation between accessibility and three related concepts namely, availability (having a mental concept), salience (the degree in which a dimension or feature of an external stimuli has the ability to grab one's attention, and applicability (the 'fit' between  the  mentally active concept and the external stimulus).

Generally, if a concept is available in one's mindits accessibility may affect the degree it will be used in processing incoming external stimuli. Accessibility may be transient. For example, incidentally hearing someone speaking about aggressiveness may lead to the concept of aggressiveness becoming transiently active (i.e., accessible) in my mind. On encountering another stimulus, say, a person gesturing emphatically (a salient stimuli) towards another, I may interpret her behavior as being more aggressive due to that activation. Accessibility may also be chronic. For example, people who have grown up in an aggressive environment and may have had the concept of aggressiveness frequently activated in their mind are prone to have a constantly higher level of accessibility of the concept. Consequently, they may interpret even highly ambiguous novel situations (in which the concept is low in applicability) as being about aggressiveness, possibly leading to maladaptive behavior.

Current research involves examining the relationship between the accessibility of a concept and its use in relation to its current value or utility.


Accessibility Representive Publications:


pdf Eitam, B.,& Higgins, E. T. (in press). Motivation in Mental Accessibility: Relevance of a Representation (ROAR) as a New Framework. Personality and Social Psychology Compass.


Cesario, J., Plaks, J. E., & Higgins, E. (2006). Automatic Social Behavior as Motivated Preparation to Interact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(6), 893-910


Forster, J., Liberman, N., & Higgins, E. T. (2005). Accessibility from active and fulfilled goals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 220–239.


Higgins, E. T. (1996). Knowledge activation: Accessibility, applicability, and salience. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 133–168). New York: Guilford Press.


Higgins, E. T., Rholes, W. S., & Jones, C. R. (1977). Category accessibility and impression formation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 141–154.


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