Group participation predicted by regulatory fit

John Levine, Tory Higgins
Project Complete

Study 1: Regulatory Fit and Self-Affirmation. Self-Affirmation Theory posits that people are motivated to think well of themselves and that affirming the self in one domain can enhance self-perceptions in other, threatened domains, allowing individuals to evaluate threatening information more objectively. For example, self-affirmation has been shown to increase the desire to make upward social comparisons following individual failure, reduce group-serving bias following group failure, encourage openness to criticism of collective identity, and mitigate stereotype threat. There is much debate about the psychological mechanisms that underlie the effectiveness of self- affirmation. Our review of the self-affirmation literature suggests that Regulatory Fit Theory (RFT) may be quite useful in specifying the conditions under which self-affirmation has positive consequences. RFT posits that people approach tasks with one of two goal orientations – promotion (i.e., concerns with accomplishment and advancement) or prevention (i.e., concerns with security and maintenance). In addition, people pursue their goals using one of two behavioral strategies – eagerness (i.e., behaviors that ensure gains) or vigilance (i.e., behaviors that ensure non-losses). Regulatory fit/non-fit is based on the relationship between individuals’ regulatory orientation toward a task and the strategy that they or others employ to perform that task. More specifically, fit occurs when the strategy that individuals employ or observe sustains their regulatory orientation (i.e., an eager strategy with a promotion focus; a vigilant strategy with a prevention focus), whereas nonfit occurs when the strategy disrupts the regulatory orientation (i.e., a vigilant strategy with a promotion focus; an eager strategy with a prevention focus). Our current study tests the hypothesis that the effectiveness of self-affirmation for producing desired behavior is strongly influenced by the “fit” between the regulatory focus of the self-affirmation manipulation and the strategic means used to engage in the target behavior. This major dependent variable in this experiment is consumption of healthy foods.

Study 2: Regulatory Fit and Group Brainstorming. In a prior CRED-supported study, we investigated the impact of regulatory fit on the generation of novel ideas during collective brainstorming.


Major Findings

  • This study yielded several interesting findings. For example, groups spent more time generating ideas and produced more and better ideas in non-fit than in fit conditions. These findings suggest that feelings of “wrongness” from non-fit were more motivating than feelings of “rightness” from fit.
  • Our current work extends the prior experiment by investigating how group composition affects brainstorming. Based on our previous study, we expected that groups’ production of novel ideas would vary positively with the percentage of their members who experienced non-fit.


CRED2 Award (2010-2015): Funding was provided under the cooperative agreement NSF SES-0951516 awarded to the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions.