Special Session Summary the Influence of Self-Regulatory Goal on Information Processing, Affective Responses and Counterfactual Thinking

Angela Y. Lee, Northwestern University
[ to cite ]:
Angela Y. Lee (2003) ,"Special Session Summary the Influence of Self-Regulatory Goal on Information Processing, Affective Responses and Counterfactual Thinking", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 82-84.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 82-84

SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY

THE INFLUENCE OF SELF-REGULATORY GOAL ON INFORMATION PROCESSING, AFFECTIVE RESPONSES AND COUNTERFACTUAL THINKING

Angela Y. Lee, Northwestern University

Regulatory focus theory (Higgins 1997) offers an interesting and powerful framework to understand consumer information processing, judgment, and behavior. The three papers in this session examine people’s cognitive and affective responses to persuasive information that is compatible versus incompatible with their regulatory focus.

According to Aaker and Lee (2001), individuals pay more attention to information that is compatible with their regulatory goal. The first paper by Yi applies the compatibility principle to examine the effects of framing on persuasion. The results of this research show that promotion (prevention) focused individuals are more persuaded by positively (negatively) framed messages that emphasize potential gains (losses). Furthermore, the superior persuasion of a message that matches the respondents’ regulatory focus is mediated by the intensity of distinct regulatory focused emotions (e.g., cheerfulness or relief for those with a promotion versus prevention focus), rather than the valence of the respondents’ cognitive responses.

The second paper by Keller, Lee and Sternthal draws on the compatibility principle to examine how people choose between stability and change. According to Liberman et al. (1999), individuals with a promotion versus prevention focus are more likely to adopt an alternative strategy to attain a goal than stay with their original strategy. In a series of studies, they show that willingness to change is not only a function of regulatory focus but also of regulatory focus compatibility. Promotion-focused individuals are more willing to change when this action emphasizes gins, and prevention-focused individuals are more willing to change when this action emphasizes losses. The authors further extend the principle of compatibility to examine the impact of goal-related versus benefits-related information. As consistent with Liberman et al.’s (1999) conjecture that a promotion (prevention) focus encourages goal- (benefit-) related, high (low) level construal of task representations, respondents with a promotion (prevention) focus are more likely to adopt the alternative strategy when they are presented with goal- (benefit-) related information that is compatible with their promotion (prevention) focus.

The notion that promotion focus prefers change and prevention focus favors the status quo also provides the starting point for the paper by Grant and Xie. They extend regulatory focus to examine individuals’ counterfactual thinking and affective responses to stock prices rising or falling after making a decision to sell half and hold half their original stock portfolio. They hypothesize that individuals with a promotion (prevention) focus are more likely to be action- (inaction) oriented and thus pay more attention to shares sold (held). two studies, the authors demonstrate that, indeed, promotion focused respondents who pay more attention to shares sold respond more positively when stock price rises and more negatively when stock price falls. In contrast, prevention focused respondents who pay more attention to shares held respond more positively when stock price falls and more negatively when stock price rises.

The Discussion Leader Miguel Brendl provided a general overview of regulatory focus research to-date and offered insightful comments for future research.

REFERENCES

Aaker, Jennifer and Angela Lee (2001), 'I’ Seek Pleasures, 'We’ Avoid Pains: The Role of Self Regulatory Goals in Information Processing and Persuasion. Journal of Consumer Research, 28 (June), 33-49.

Higgins, E. Tory (1997), "Beyond Pleasure and Pain," American Psychologist, 52 (December) 1280-1300.

Liberman, Nira, Lorraine Chen Idson, Christopher J. Camacho, and E. Tory Higgins (1999), "Promotion and Prevention Choices Between Stability and Change," Journal of Personality &Social Psychology. 77 (December) 1135-1145.

 

THE EFFECT OF REGULATORY FIT ON PERSUASIVENESS OF MESSAGE FRAMES: AFFECTIVE RESPONSE AS A MEDIATING PROCESS

Sunghwan Yi, Penn State University

Although framing research has a long tradition in marketing, previous studies on message framing are limited in several ways. First, many researchers have failed to recognize that message framing is a phenomenon that is distinct from other kinds of framing, such as risky choice framing and attribute framing (see Levin, Schneider, and Gaeth 1998). Second, although consumer researchers have recognized that the way a message is framed may affect persuasion, most previous studies focused on comparing positively valenced frames that emphasize the benefits of compliance with negatively valenced frames that emphasize the loss of benefits of noncompliance (for an exception see Aaker and Lee 2001). In practice, a message can be framed in terms of one of four possible future outcomes: obtaining gains by complying, forgoing gains by not complying, avoiding losses by complying, or suffering losses by not complying (Brendl, Higgins, and Lemm 1995). Third, previous studies on message framing mainly focused on the role o cognition while ignoring the impact of anticipated emotions on persuasion.

The current research deviates from previous studies on framing by investigating the persuasive effect of two alternative positively valenced frames: one version that emphasizes that consumers will be able to obtain positive states or gains by complying (i.e., the "eagerness" version) and another version that stresses that they can ward off negative states or losses by complying (i.e., the "vigilance" version). It is expected that persuasion will be maximized in situations in which a consumer’s chronic regulatory focus (i.e., promotion vs. prevention focus) matches the outcome focus of the message (i.e., emphasis on gains vs. losses). This prediction is based on Higgins’ (1998) regulatory focus theory, which suggests that people with a promotion focus are more sensitive to the presence or absence of positive outcomes (i.e., gains and nongains) rather than to the presence or absence of negative outcomes (i.e., losses and nonlosses), whereas the opposite is true for people with a prevention focus (Higgins, Shah, and Friedman 1997).

Furthermore, this paper attempts to uncover the mediational processes underlying the hypothesis of regulatory fit. On the one hand, superior persuasion in the regulatory fit conditions is likely to be mediated by the greater positivity of cognitive responses that consumers generate while reading the message. On the other hand, it is also likely that greater persuasion under conditions of regulatory fit is mediated by the anticipation of distinct emotions that consumers expect to experience: cheerfulness and relief. Specifically, it is hypothesized that superior persuasion among consumers with a promotion focus who read the eagerness version of the message (i.e., focus on gains) occurs via anticipation of cheerfulness rather than quiescence. On the other hand, superior persuasion among consumers with a prevention focus who read the vigilance version (i.e., focus on non-losses) will be mediated by anticipation of quiescence.

The hypotheses were tested in an experiment with college students. As predicted, for those respondents with a chronic promotion focus, a message that emphasizes the presence of gains (i.e., the "eagerness" version) elicited greater anticipation of cheerfulness, compared to a message that stresses the absence of losses (i.e., the "vigilance" version). In contrast, for those with a chronic prevention focus, the vigilance version elicited greater anticipation of relief, compared to the eagerness version. The findings also support the hypothesis that persuasion is maximized under conditions of regulatory fit. Further, mediational analyses revealed that the superior persuasion of the regulatory fit message was mediated by the intensity of distinct anticipated emotions, rather than by the positivity of cognitive responses.

REFERENCES

Aaker, Jennifer and Angela Lee (2001), 'I’ Seek Pleasures, 'We’ Avoid Pains: The Role of Self Regulatory Goals in Information Processing and Persuasion. Journal of Consumer Research, 28 (June), 33-49.

Brendl, C. Miguel, E. Tory Higgins, and Kristi M. Lemm (1995), Sensitivity to Varying Gains and Losses: The Role of Self-Discrepancies and Event Framing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 69 (6), 1028-1051.

Higgins, E. Tory (1998), Promotion and Prevention: Regulatory Focus as a Motivational Principle. In Mark P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 30, pp. 1-46). New York: Academic Press.

Higgins, E. Tory, James Shah, and Ronald Friedman (1997), Emotional Responses to Goal Attainment: Strength of Regulatory Focus as a Moderator. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72 (3), 515-525.

Levin, Irwin P.,Sandra L. Schneider, and Gary J. Gaeth (1998), All Frames Are Not Created Equal: A Typology and Critical Analysis of Framing Effects. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 76 (2), 149-188.

 

STABILITY VERSUS CHANGE: THE EFFECTS OF REGULATORY FOCUS COMPATIBILITY ON BEHAVIOR CHANGE

Punam A. Keller, Dartmouth College

Angela Y. Lee, Northwestern University

Brian Sternthal, Northwestern University

According to Liberman et al. (1999), individuals with a promotion focus are more likely to adopt a change in their strategy to attain goal than those with a prevention focus. They further suggest that a promotion focus encourages mental representations that are more abstract and general, whereas a prevention focus encourages representations that are more concrete and detailed.

In the current research, we extend the hypothesis of regulatory focus compatibility (Aaker and Lee 2001) to further investigate individuals’ willingness to adopt change. We hypothesize that individuals with a promotion versus prevention focus are more likely to adopt change when presented with promotion information that emphasizes gains (e.g., benefits of effective exercising) rather than losses (e.g., benefits of stress reduction), and the reverse for those with a prevention focus. We further hypothesize that those with a promotion focus are more likely to attend to high-level goal-oriented information that is more abstract, whereas those with a prevention focus are more likely to emphasize low-level benefits-oriented information that is more concrete. These hypotheses were tested in four studies.

In study 1, participants were provided with either a promotion goal of exercising (to build stamina) or a prevention goal (to prevent cardiovascular disease). They were then presented with benefits of a different exercise machine that were (in)compatible with their goal. As predicted, participants presented with the promotion (prevention) goal were more likely to switch when the alternative offers the promotion- (prevention-) focused benefit of effective exercising (stress reduction). Furthermore, the results showed that participants’ promotion focused thoughts were more likely to be goal-related rather than benefits-related, and the reverse for prevention focused thoughts. The results of study 2 provide convergent evidence that promotion focus orients toward high-level construal while prevention focus orients toward low-level construal.

In two other studies, we manipulated participants’ regulatory focus by priming them with a scenario that emphasized either gains or losses. We then presented these promotion- or prevention-focused participants with another scenario in an exercising context, similar to studies 1 and 2. They were presented with goal-related information that is either promotion-focused (to build stamina and achieve cardiovascular training; study 3) or prevention-focused (to prevent loss of stamina and reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease; study 4), followed by benefits-related information that is either promotion focused (emphasizing effective exercising) or prevention focused (emphasizing pain reduction). Consistent with Liberman et al. (1999), our results showed that those with a promotion focus were more willing to switch to a different exercise machine than those with a prevention focus, replicating the findings of study 1. Furthermore, our promotion-focused participants were more likely to switch when presented with goal-related information that was compatible with their regulatory focus, regardless of the compatibility of the benefits-related information. In contrast, those with a prevention focus were more likely to change only when the benefits were compatible with their regulatory focus.

The results of the current research replicate past findings that promotion focus prompts more switching. More importantly, our results show that willingness to change is not only a function of regulatory focus but also of regulatory focus compatibility. Promotion-focused individuals exhibit greater willingness to change when this action emphasizes gains, whereas prevention-focused individuals are more willing to adopt change when this action emphasizes losses. Furthermore, we present evidence that promotion-focused individuals are more likely to be persuaded by high-level information that emphasizes the goal versus the benefits; whereas prevention-focused individuals are more responsive to low-level information that emphasizes the benefits versus the goal.

REFERENCES

Aaker, Jennifer and Angela Lee (2001), 'I’ Seek Pleasures, 'We’ Avoid Pains: The Role of Self Regulatory Goals in Information Processing and Persuasion. Journal of Consumer Research, 28 (June), 33-49.

Liberman, Nira, Lorraine Chen Idson, Christopher J. Camacho, and E. Tory Higgins (1999), "Promotion and Prevention Choices Between Stability and Change," Journal of Personality &Social Psychology. 77 (December) 1135-1145.

 

AN ANALYSIS OF COUNTERFACTUAL THINKING AND RATIONALITY: THE ROLE OF REGULATORY GOAL FOCUS IN INDIVIDUAL INVESTOR RESPONSE

Susan Jung Grant, University of Colorado, Boulder

Ying Xie, Northwestern University

Financial professionals frequently advise stock investors to sell half their stake in a company to lock in capital gains while still maintaining exposure. This common portfolio strategy, however, can elicit seemingly irrational responsesBfeeling positive utility when overall wealth decreases but negative utility when wealth increases. We examine the occurrence of this effect and attempt to link two distinct lines of researchBregulatory goal focus theory and counterfactual thinkingBto articulate a theoretical explanation for a psychological phenomenon that may lead to irrational (and rational) reactions to portfolio performance.

Regulatory focus theory, which makes predictions based on individuals’ motivational state, suggests that people may be categorized as having either a promotion goalBseeking to approach a positive outcomeBor as having a prevention goalBseeking to avoid a negative outcome (Higgins 1997). The adoption of a promotion focus toward a goal is believed to center on the acquisition of positive outcomes by achieving gains, advancing and realizing ideal end states. Consequently, a promotion orientation motivates the individual to reduce the psychological distance between an actual state and the desired state. A prevention focus is thought to center on warding off negative outcomes by meeting obligations, maintaining a state of safety or security and realizing ought end states. Consequently, a prevention orientation motivates the individual to maintain the psychological distance between an actual state and the undesired state.

Extending this theorizing, Liberman, Idson, Camacho and Higgins (1999) suggest that each goal state will elicit distinct consequences. Specifically, Liberman et al. demonstrate that promotion-oriented individuals prefer change, while prevention-focused people have a preference for maintaining the status quo. We employ a stock market investment context to explore the effects of a promotion goal orientation versus a prevention goal orientation when research participants are told they sell half their stake in a stock but maintain the other half, which we conceive of as change and status quo.

Our studies extend Liberman et al.’s findings by demonstrating that the investor’s affective state is the result of the kind of counterfactual comparisons evoked, which is driven by the individual’s goal focus. We offer evidence that such differences establish whether investors attend to the shares that have been sold or the shares that have been held in a sell-half-hold-half scenario. The resultant assessment of performance, then, is made based on a relative counterfactual comparison of what happened the next day to what could have happened. Counterfactual thinking, which is thought to occur spontaneously, most likely in response to certain triggers, such as a departure from established norms or a last-minute decision (Kahneman & Miller 1986), is a process of mental comparison by which people judge and interpret their choices or outcomes.

In two studies, we investigate how regulatory focus determines counterfactual thinking and thereby influence responses. In both studies, respondents were asked to imagine having an investment in a technology company and deciding to sell half and hold half their shares after a news announcement of ambiguous significance.

In Study 1, we manipulated either a promotion or prevention orientation among university undergraduates and measured their cognitive and affective reactions to a stock price rise or fall immediately following a decision to sell half and hold half their shares. Our results show that when a promotion orientation is manipulated, participants focus on the shares they have sold. They experience disappointment when the stock goes up but contentment when the stock goes down. When a prevention orientation is manipulated, participants focus on the shares they held, resulting in anxiety when the stock goes down but relief when the stock goes up. Further, we find that the type of counterfactual thoughts varies according to regulatory focus. Promotion-oriented respondents have more counterfactual thoughts about the shares they sold, whereas prevention-oriented respondents have more counterfactuals about the shares they held, regardless of whether the stock price rose or fell the next day.

These results support our contention that a promotion focus fosters thoughts about the shares that were sold (change) and that a prevention focus elicits thoughts about the shares that were held (status quo). Furthermore, we contend that these findings qualify theorizing in the counterfactual literature, in which action (selling) rather than inaction (holding) is thought to elicit more counterfactuals. We find no difference in overall number of counterfactual thoughts as a function of action or inaction.

In Study 2, we manipulated the salience of the focal action instead of regulatory focus by telling participants that their original intent was to hold (or sell) all their shares. Then, at the last minute, they sold (or held) half, thereby emphasizing the salience of the decision. When the salient action is selling (holding) the stock at the last minute, participants focused on shares that they sold (held), and they felt more positive when the next-day price dropped (rose). These data replicate the findings in Study 1 that responses to falling or rising stock prices is a function of respondents’ emphasis on different aspects of the investment decision. The results corroborate our conclusion that distinct regulatory foci draw attention to selling (change) versus holding (status quo).

Therefore, we conclude that investors with a promotion focus are disappointed when the stock price rises after selling half their shares but pleased when the price falls. Prevention-focused individuals, however, are pleased when the stock price rises after selling half their shares and disappointed when the price falls. These results suggest that investors with a promotion focus have a tendency to dwell on the fate of the shares that have been sold, while investors with a prevention focus tend to attend to the shares that are maintained, which is consistent with theorizing by Liberman et al. (1999).

The present research provides evidence that regulatory goal focus may affect the natural tendency to consider what could have been, or counterfactual thinking, to interpret the subjective utility of an outcome.

REFERENCES

Higgins, E. Tory (1997), "Beyond Pleasure and Pain," American Psychologist, 52 (December) 1280-1300.

Kahneman, Daniel and Dale T. Miller (1986), "Norm Theory: Comparing Reality to its Alternatives," Psychological Review, 93 (April) 136-153.

Liberman, Nira, Lorraine Chen Idson, Christopher J. Camacho, and E. Tory Higgins (1999), "Promotion and Prevention Choices Between Stability and Change," Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 77 (December) 1135-1145.

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