Special Session Summary the Role of Goal-Related Associations in Judgment and Behavior

Aparna A. Labroo, University of Chicago
Angela Y. Lee, Northwestern University
[ to cite ]:
Aparna A. Labroo and Angela Y. Lee (2005) ,"Special Session Summary the Role of Goal-Related Associations in Judgment and Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, eds. Geeta Menon and Akshay R. Rao, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 277-279.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 32, 2005     Pages 277-279



Aparna A. Labroo, University of Chicago

Angela Y. Lee, Northwestern University


Research on goals and motivation shows that distinct higher order goals such as life values and self regulatory focus often have important implications for the processing of information, which in turn affects the pursuit of lower order consumption goals (e.g., Aaker and Lee 2001; Huffman, Ratneshwar and Mick 2000). Several findings of interest have emerged from this stream of research. For instance, goals are cognitive structures that help people regulate their behavior; goals may be chronically active or be situationally activated (e.g., Huffman and Houston 1993; Hutchins 1995); people pay more attention to information relevant (vs. irrelevant) to their goals (see Markman and Brendl 2000); and goals influence judgment (e.g., Brendl 2000; Lee and Aaker 2004) and behavior (e.g., Gollwitzer and Bargh 1996). The research discussed in this session contributes to the literature by examining the link between goals and mental associations. In particular, the three papers in this session provide a more in-depth look into how goals activate different concepts in memory, and how these mental associations in turn affect judgment and behavior.

The first paper by Fishbach examines how valence of goal-related associations affects goal pursuit when people have conflicting goals. Across four studies, the author demonstrates that people may have positive or negative associations related to their long-term goal as well as to temptations that distract them from attaining their goals. The results show that hen people have positive associations toward their goal and negative associations toward temptations, they are more likely to be successful in their goal pursuit. In contrast, people are likely to fail in their goal pursuit when they have negative associations toward their goal and positive associations toward temptations. She also shows that dieters, but not non-dieters, had implicit positive associations to dieting and negative associations to culinary delights. Similarly, among student participants striving toward academic excellence, goal-related targets (e.g., "study") primed the recognition of positive material (e.g., "love") whereas temptation-related targets (e.g., "television") primed the recognition of negative material (e.g., "cancer"). The implications of formation of such associations towards effective self-regulation were discussed.

In the second paper, Herzenstein, Posavac, and Brakus provide further evidence that negative associations related to regulatory goals can inhibit behavioral intent. They report that people with distinct regulatory goals take very different approaches when judging new productsBwhen a new product is considered in a context that does not specify the potential liabilities of the product, prevention focused participants were more likely than promotion focused participants to generate concerns regarding purchase and use of the product. However, when the judgmental context made the risks associated with buying a new product salient, participants in prevention and promotion focus were equally likely to state concerns. Furthermore, prevention focus, more than promotion focus, activates negative associations towards new but not existing products. Those with a prevention focus generated more fears related to purchasing and using the new product compared to those with a promotion focus. These thoughts in turn mediated their intention to try the new product.

While both these papers suggest that negative associations are inhibitory in nature, the third paper by Labroo and Lee suggested that negative associations may be facilitative under some conditions. Across three studies, Labroo and Lee show that negative associations brought to mind by a prime suppress liking of the target brand (study 1). However, this effect of decreased liking of the brand is reversed when the associations brought to mind are compatible with the individual’s regulatory goal that is active at that time (study 2). Thus, whereas regulatory goal compatibility between a prime and the target brand enhances individuals’ affective response toward the brand, goal-incompatibility hurts persuasion. For instance, priming participants with a shampoo formulated to kill lice (i.e., negative associations) decreases liking of a hair conditioner (i.e., product with an approach goal). However, the same prime increased liking and purchase intent toward an insect repellent (i.e., product with an avoidance goal). Enhanced fluency of the target as the result of goal compatibility is hypothesized to underlie this effect.




Ayelet Fishbach, University of Chicago

In many life situations, pursuing momentary pleasures come at the expense of attaining long-term objectives. For example, the pleasure that is associated with consuming culinary delights, drinking, or smoking comes with the price of failing to pursue general health goals and shopping for luxuries often interferes with one’s saving goals. A considerable amount of research attests that momentary allurements sometimes tempt people to act against their long-term objectives and in response to temptations, people may engage in self-control efforts designed to protect their long-term interests (e.g., Baumeister, Heatherton and Tice, 1994; Dar and Wertenbroch, 2000; Fishbach and Trope, 2003).

Whereas previous research mainly focused on explicit (i.e., conscious and effortful) self-control operations, the current research was set to demonstrate some of the most basic and automatic processes that govern the implementation of self-control. We assumed that over the course of exercising self-control people develop implicit links between momentary temptations and negative stimuli, and between overriding goal-related concepts and positive stimuli. As a result, the mere presentation of cues related to goal and temptation triggers the activation of the appropriate affective response. These implicit associations between motivational states and affective evaluations are automatic, in the sense that they are independent of conscious awareness of the goal and temptation stimuli. Furthermore, these implicit associations may then play a role in overcoming temptation.

The mental association between motivational concepts and affective evaluations takes the form of an implicit attitude and was assessed by applying procedures for attitude assessment to the domain of self-control. Specifically, using an affective priming procedure, we tested whether subliminal goal-related primes facilitate the activation of positive attributes (e.g., "study" facilitates the recognition of "love") whereas subliminal temptation-related primes facilitate the activation of negative attributes (e.g., "television" facilitates the recognition of "cancer"). Using this procedure, Study 1 found that successful, rather than unsuccessful, self-regulators associate goals with positive evaluations and temptations with negative evaluations. Study 2 provided a conceptual replication for this effect with respect to the goal of weight-watching. It showed that dieters, rather than non-dieters, associate dieting with positive attribute and culinary delights with negative attributes. These implicit associations are not demonstrated by individuals who are not trying to lose weight. Our next studies tested for implicit associations between academic goals and positive evaluations and between nonacademic temptations and negative evaluations. Accordingly, Study 3 found that to the extent that individuals associate nonacademic temptations with negative attributes, presenting tempting activities would ironically facilitate the pursuit of overriding academic objectives. Another study was then conducted to address the causal role that implicit self-control processes may play in advancing people’s self-regulatory interests. Thus, in Study 4, associating healthy lifestyle with positive attributes (e.g., "fitBflower", "chocolateBevil") facilitated the pursuit of healthy lifestyle.

Taken together, these studies explore some of the most basic mechanisms that encourage the formation of implicit associations between personal goals and affective evaluations and demonstrate their role in self-regulation. These studies explore the role of implicit associations across a variety of personal goals, including the pursuit of healthy lifestyle, academic objectives, saving objectives and more. The results are interpreted as suggesting that low-level associative patterns between motivational and affective concepts may give rise to successful goal pursuit.



Michal Herzenstein, University of Rochester

Steven S. Posavac, University of Rochester

J. Josko Brakus, University of Rochester

Investigating determinants of new product adoption is extremely important because developing new products is costly, and failure may be devastating to the firm. This research aims to investigate how consumer goals and the self-regulation inclinations they activate may be related to purchase intentions for new products.

Purchasing a really new product is often perceived to be risky, and as the level of perceived risk increases, the diffusion rate and the adoption level decrease (Ostlund, 1974). Early adopters have been described in the literature as having favorable attitudes toward risk, whereas followers tend to be conformist and more dependent on normative influence (Robertson, Zielinski and Ward, 1984). Regulatory focus theory suggests that individuals in promotion focus prefer the use of eagerness means for goal attainment and thus exhibit a risky bias, while individuals in prevention focus prefer the use of vigilance means and thus exhibit a conservative bias (Crowe and Higgins, 1997). Liberman et al. (1999) found that individuals in promotion focus were more willing than those in prevention focus to change their original course of action when the new alternative was advancement over the original one. Those in prevention focus demonstrated a conservative preference for stability.

In this research we show that consumers in promotion focus are more likely to adopt a new product than consumers in prevention focus. In the first study we manipulated regulatory focus and risk salience in the decision context. We selected a highly innovative product that was not sold in the USA at the time. We demonstrate that in the default judgmental context in which the risks of purchasing and using a new product were not explicitly made salient, consumers’ regulatory focus affected their willingness to purchase new products such that promotion focused consumers were much more likely to buy a new product than were prevention focused consumers. When new product risk was contextually salient (e.g., consumer magazines often caution readers regarding some problems when reviewing new products), consumers were equally unlikely to purchase a new product regardless of their regulatory focus. We define consumers’ fear of new product consumption as any reason for underperformance of the product, and show that this construct drove the effect of regulatory focus on purchase intentions. Specifically, fear was low only among promotion focused consumers who made product judgments in a context that did not make new product risk salient.

In the second experiment we wanted to demonstrate that the effects we documented in the first experiment are specific to new (versus existing) products. Another purpose of experiment 2 was to address the generality of our findings by using a completely different product type. We manipulated regulatory focus and product newness. We created two advertisements for the same digital camera, one portrayed the camera as new and one as similar to other available cameras. We replicated our main result for the new product, and show that the purchase intentions of promotion and prevention focused consumers are equivalent when the target product was portrayed as an existing one. Consistent with experiment 1, mediation analyses show that the effect of regulatory focus on willingness to purchase new products is driven by the differential fear that people in prevention versus promotion focus associate with the consumption and usage of new products.

The data from our experiments provide a clear picture of the role of regulatory focus in new product adoption. When a new product was considered in the typical consumer context in which the potential liabilities of the product are not specified, prevention focused participants were much more likely than promotion focused participants to generate concerns regarding purchase and use of the product. We further isolated the effects of regulatory focus on purchase intentions regarding new products: promotion focused participants reported purchase intentions similar to those in prevention focus when the product under consideration was described as existing. Mediation analyses in both experiments provide compelling evidence that regulatory focus affects new product choice likelihood because consumers’ regulatory focus affects the extent to which they generate fears related to purchasing and using the new product.



Aparna A. Labroo, University of Chicago

Angela Y. Lee, Northwestern University

The processing fluency model posits that advertising exposures enhance the ease with which a brand can be recognized and/or retrieved from memory. Moreover, ease of processing is positively valenced, which in turn enhances brand attitude. Recent research suggests that processing fluency can be perceptual (feature-based) or conceptual (meaning-based) in nature (e.g., Lee and Labroo 2004). Furthermore, people may experience fluent processing of a target (e.g., ketchup) as the result of direct priming (i.e., repeated exposures to the target such as mayonnaise), or indirect priming (i.e., repeated exposures to objects that are related to the target).

In this research, we present evidence that when conceptual fluency is associated with negative materials, liking of the target may decrease. In the first study, we show that prior exposure to a shampoo formulated to kill lice lead to less favorable attitudes for a related product (hair conditioner), presumably because conceptual fluency was associated with negative concepts in memory. However, we show in study 2 that negative associations that prompt an avoidance goal (kill lice) lead to more favorable attitudes toward a target when the target is intended to also achieve an avoidance goal (repel insects). Thus, it appears that goal-compatibility fluency can reverse the effects of negative associations of a prime on evaluation of a target brand. Study 3 replicates and extends this result by showing that the goal-compatibility fluency effect is moderated by argument strength. Specifically, we show that liking for an insect repellent (i.e., a target with an avoidance goal) increases when participants previously saw an ad for acne treatment that relieves skin dryness (i.e., a prime with an avoidance goal) as compared with when the treatment is framed as providing radiant skin (i.e., a prime with an approach goal). However, this increase in goal-compatibility based liking is observed only when the ad for the insect repellent contains strong arguments for the product. When the target ad contains a strong argument, goal-compatibility between the prime and the target enhances participants’ attitudes toward the target whereas goal-incompatibility leads to less favorable attitudes. In contrast, goal-incompatibility of the prime has no effect on the liking of a target when weak arguments are presented. Further, participants in the goal compatible condition demonstrated better performance in a word identification task than those in the incompatible condition. These results cannot be accounted for by differences in participants’ involvement, their attitudes toward the prime, or by global positive affect. Rather, the results are consistent with a processing fluency account (e.g., Lee and Aaker 2004).

The current research thus presents evidence in support of a processing fluency account of the goal compatibility effect on judgment. Our results indicate that the effect of negative associations on a target brand can be mitigated or even reversed under certain conditions when goal-compatibility fluency exists. When a prime brings negative associations to mind, a target that focuses on negative outcomes (i.e., serves an avoidance goal) will be evaluated more favorably, whereas a target that focuses on positive outcomes (i.e., serves an approach goal) will be evaluated less favorably.


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