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Motivation by Positive or Negative Role Models: Regulatory Focus Determines Who Will Best Inspire Us

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In 3 studies, the authors demonstrated that individuals are motivated by role models who encourage strategies that fit their regulatory concerns: Promotion-focused individuals, who favor a strategy of pursuing desirable outcomes, are most inspired by positive role models, who highlight strategies for achieving success; prevention-focused individuals, who favor a strategy of avoiding undesirable outcomes, are most motivated by negative role models, who highlight strategies for avoiding failure. In Studies 1 and 2, the authors primed promotion and prevention goals and then examined the impact of role models on motivation. Participants' academic motivation was increased by goal-congruent role models but decreased by goal-incongruent role models. In Study 3, participants were more likely to generate real-life role models that matched their chronic goals.
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Motivation by Positive or Negative Role Models:
Regulatory Focus Determines Who Will Best Inspire Us
Penelope Lockwood
University of Toronto
Christian H. Jordan and Ziva Kunda
University of Waterloo
In 3 studies, the authors demonstrated that individuals are motivated by role models who encourage
strategies that fit their regulatory concerns: Promotion-focused individuals, who favor a strategy of
pursuing desirable outcomes, are most inspired by positive role models, who highlight strategies for
achieving success; prevention-focused individuals, who favor a strategy of avoiding undesirable out-
comes, are most motivated by negative role models, who highlight strategies for avoiding failure. In
Studies 1 and 2, the authors primed promotion and prevention goals and then examined the impact of role
models on motivation. Participants’ academic motivation was increased by goal-congruent role models
but decreased by goal-incongruent role models. In Study 3, participants were more likely to generate
real-life role models that matched their chronic goals.
Positive role models, individuals who have achieved outstand-
ing success, are widely expected to inspire others to pursue similar
excellence. Accordingly, the accomplishments of star athletes,
musicians, and award-winning scientists are often showcased in an
attempt to enhance people’s goals and aspirations. People are also
assumed to be motivated by negative role models, individuals who
have experienced misfortune; public service announcements high-
light examples of AIDS patients, of smokers who have suffered
lung cancer, and of motorists who have been injured as a result of
drinking and driving, in the hope of motivating people to take the
steps necessary to avoid similarly unpleasant outcomes. Indeed,
positive role models can inspire one by illustrating an ideal,
desired self, highlighting possible achievements that one can strive
for, and demonstrating the route for achieving them (Lockwood &
Kunda, 1997, 1999); negative role models can inspire one by
illustrating a feared, to-be-avoided self, pointing to possible future
disasters, and highlighting mistakes that must be avoided so as to
prevent them (Lockwood, 2002). At different times, people may be
differentially receptive to positive and negative role models (cf.
Stapel & Koomen, 2001).
We propose that the inspirational impact of positive and nega-
tive role models may depend on the goals people are striving to
achieve when they encounter these models. Goals can take the
form of pursuing desirable outcomes or avoiding undesirable out-
comes (e.g., Carver & Scheier, 1998; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996;
Higgins, 1997). People may be especially likely to be inspired by
positive role models, who represent a desired self, when they are
bent on pursuing success, and by negative role models, who
represent a feared self, when they are intent on avoiding failure.
This prediction is based on a large body of theory and research
by Higgins and his colleagues (for reviews, see Higgins, 1997,
1998), who argue that individuals can pursue two different kinds of
regulatory goals: promotion and prevention. Promotion goals en-
tail striving to achieve an ideal self, and so produce a sensitivity to
the presence or absence of positive outcomes; strategies for
achieving promotion goals involve the eager pursuit of gains or
successes. In contrast, prevention goals entail striving to avoid
disasters, and so produce a sensitivity to the presence or absence of
negative outcomes; strategies for achieving prevention goals in-
volve the vigilant avoidance of losses or failures.
When people are driven by promotion goals, they scrutinize
their social world for information that bears on the pursuit of
success. They are especially likely to notice and recall information
relating to the pursuit of success by others (Higgins & Tykocinski,
1992). They are also especially well-attuned to emotions relating
to the successful or unsuccessful pursuit of positive outcomes (i.e.,
happiness and dejection; Higgins, Shah, & Friedman, 1997). In
addition, they tend to focus on interpersonal strategies geared
toward promoting desired outcomes (Higgins, Roney, Crowe, &
Hymes, 1994). They also tend to show especially high motivation
and persistence on tasks that are framed in terms of promotion
(Shah, Higgins, & Friedman, 1998). It stands to reason that people
in this state of mind will also be especially susceptible to positive
role models, who exemplify positive outcomes to be pursued.
Positive role models inspire others by encouraging the pursuit of
success, a promotion strategy.
Penelope Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Christian H. Jordan and Ziva Kunda, Depart-
ment of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
This research was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Re-
search Council of Canada Grant 410-99-1376 awarded to Penelope Lock-
wood and Grant 410-99-0993 awarded to Ziva Kunda, by Natural Sciences
and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Grant 13843-98
awarded to Ziva Kunda, and by an NSERC doctoral fellowship awarded to
Christian H. Jordan. We are grateful to Niki Capogiannis, Keren Fyman,
Natalie Foong, Linor Gerchak, and Raymond Mar for their assistance with
data collection. We thank Michael Ross, Anne Wilson, and Joanne Wood
for their comments on an earlier version of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Penelope
Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 100 St.
George Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G3, Canada. E-mail: lockwood@
psych.utoronto.ca
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2002 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
2002, Vol. 83, No. 4, 854864 0022-3514/02/$5.00 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.83.4.854
854
In contrast, when people are driven by prevention goals, they
focus on information relevant to the avoidance of failure. They are
especially likely to notice and recall information relating to the
avoidance of failure by others (Higgins & Tykocinski, 1992). They
are also particularly well-attuned to emotions relating to the suc-
cessful or unsuccessful avoidance of negative outcomes (i.e., qui-
escence and anxiety; Higgins et al., 1997). In addition, they tend to
focus on interpersonal strategies geared toward preventing nega-
tive outcomes (Higgins et al., 1994). They also tend to show high
motivation and persistence on tasks that are framed in terms of
prevention (Shah et al., 1998). We would therefore expect that
people in this state of mind will likely be especially susceptible to
negative role models, who illustrate negative outcomes to be
avoided. Negative role models motivate others by encouraging the
avoidance of failure, a prevention strategy.
In sum, people are especially sensitive to information that fits
their dominant regulatory focuspromotion or preventionand
they show enhanced motivation and performance when they are
encouraged to pursue strategies that match their regulatory con-
cerns (Higgins, 2000). It therefore seems reasonable that role
models will be most effective when they foster strategies that fit
ones regulatory focus. Positive role models highlight promotion
strategies, and so are most likely to motivate individuals with
promotion goals; negative role models highlight prevention strat-
egies, and so are most likely to motivate individuals with preven-
tion goals.
This notion gains support from evidence suggesting that positive
role models encourage the adoption of the kinds of strategies
favored by people pursuing promotion goals, whereas negative
role models highlight the kinds of strategies favored by people
pursuing prevention goals. Positive role models boost motivation
by providing a guide to achieving success; they personify plausible
desired selves that people can realistically aspire to become and
illustrate the means for achieving these desired selves (cf. Buunk,
Collins, Taylor, Van Yperen, & Dakof, 1990; Collins, 1996; Tay-
lor & Lobel, 1989; Taylor, Wayment, & Carillo, 1996; Wood,
1989). Indeed, successful others prompt inspiration only when
their achievements seem attainable (Aspinwall, 1997; Blanton,
2001; Lockwood & Kunda, 1997, 2000). For example, in one
study, an outstanding fourth-year student inspired first-year stu-
dents, who believed that they could attain comparable success in
due time, but did not inspire fourth-year students, who recognized
that comparable success was no longer attainable for them (Lock-
wood & Kunda, 1997). Similarly, in another study, participants
showed improved performance after observing a moderately su-
perior model, whose achievements likely seemed attainable, but
not after observing a highly superior model whose extraordinary
achievements likely seemed unattainable (Seta, 1982). Indeed,
when an individuals ability to imagine a self as successful as the
other is constrained, motivation is undermined (Lockwood &
Kunda, 1999). It therefore seems likely that promotion-focused
individuals, who are especially likely to notice, recall, and be
motivated by information that bears on the pursuit of success, may
be especially open to inspiration by positive role models.
Whereas positive role models boost motivation by illustrating
key strategies for achieving success, negative role models most
likely boost motivation by illustrating key strategies for avoiding
failure; they personify unwanted, feared selves and highlight ways
of forestalling such selves. Some support for this possibility comes
from the finding that individuals report that social comparisons to
worse-off others in domains such as marital satisfaction and health
can be distressing, in that the worse-off other serves as a reminder
of a negative future that may lie ahead (e.g., Buunk et al., 1990;
Wood & VanderZee, 1997). Such a focus on feared selves may
lead to an increase in the motivation to avoid them (Markus &
Nurius, 1986). Indeed, research on counterfactual thinking sug-
gests that reflecting on possible feared selves by imagining a
narrowly avoided misfortune can lead to an increase in the moti-
vation to avoid such misfortunes in the future and can increase
intentions to pursue appropriate avoidance strategies (McMullen &
Markman, 2000). The most direct evidence that negative role
models increase motivation by highlighting feared selves and
boosting strategies for avoiding them comes from the finding that
students were especially likely to show increased motivation after
learning about a failed former student if they were asked to
imagine becoming like that negative model; such activation of
feared selves increased their intentions to pursue strategies for
avoiding failure (Lockwood, 2002). In light of these findings, it
seems likely that prevention-focused individuals, who are espe-
cially likely to notice, recall, and be motivated by information that
bears on the avoidance of negative outcomes, will be especially
likely to be motivated by negative role models.
In sum, people may be especially motivated by models who
highlight strategies that are congruent with their regulatory con-
cerns and are useful for the attainment of their goals. In contrast,
people may draw little motivation from models that highlight
strategies that are incongruent with their regulatory concerns, and
their motivation may even be undercut by such models. When a
role model highlights strategies that are incongruent with ones
regulatory concerns, one may be unlikely to seize upon and adopt
these strategies: People focused on promotion may be unreceptive
to the prevention strategies highlighted by a negative role model,
and people focused on prevention may be unreceptive to the
promotion strategies highlighted by a positive role model. Such
incongruent models provide little information about the strategies
that people are predisposed to pursue, and highlight other strate-
gies that people are not ready to take on. Moreover, a role model
that highlights strategies that are incongruent with ones regulatory
concerns may disrupt ones dominant strategies, and thereby un-
dermine motivation. It has been shown that when peoples pre-
ferred achievement strategies are disrupted, their achievement
motivation is undercut; the performance of defensive pessimists,
who are motivated to avoid failure, is undermined when they are
told that they might succeed (Norem & Cantor, 1986). By the same
token, for prevention-focused individuals, who are bent on avoid-
ing failure, a suggestion that they might succeed may undermine
their preferred avoidance strategy without providing them with an
alternative strategy that they are prepared to pursue. Similarly, for
promotion-focused individuals, who are bent on achieving success,
the notion that they may fail may undermine their success-
pursuing strategies without providing alternatives that they find
useful. Thus, individualsmotivation is unlikely to be enhanced by
role models who highlight strategies that are incongruent with their
regulatory concerns, and may even be undercut by such models.
Although there are stable individual differences in dominant
regulatory focus, ones current focus also depends on situational
factors (e.g., Higgins, 1998; Higgins & Silberman, 1998; Shah &
Higgins, 2001). It is possible to induce promotion or prevention
855
REGULATORY GOALS AND ROLE MODELS
goals by framing possible rewards or penalties for performance
either in terms of benefits to be gained, priming promotion, or in
terms of losses to be avoided, priming prevention (e.g., Brendl,
Higgins, & Lemm, 1995; Crowe & Higgins, 1997; Fo¨rster, Hig-
gins, & Idson, 1998; Higgins et al., 1997; Roney, Higgins, & Shah,
1995). Regulatory focus can also be primed by having participants
describe personal experiences relevant either to promotion or to
prevention (Higgins et al., 1994). Dominant promotion and pre-
vention goals have similar consequences regardless of whether
they are chronically salient or have been made salient by situa-
tional demands (Higgins, 1997, 1998).
In this article, we examine the role that promotion and preven-
tion goals play in determining the impact of positive and negative
role models on motivation. Studies 1 and 2 examined the impact of
situationally induced goals. In both studies, we first primed pro-
motion or prevention goals, using two different techniques, and
then exposed participants to a positive or negative role model. For
both, we expected that participants primed with promotion goals
would be most motivated by positive role models whereas partic-
ipants primed with prevention goals would be most motivated by
negative role models. In Study 3, we examined the impact of
individuals chronic regulatory focus on the types of role models
that they recalled when asked to describe someone who had
inspired them. We expected that promotion-focused individuals
would be especially likely to recall positive models whereas
prevention-focused individuals would be especially likely to recall
negative models.
Study 1: Primed Academic Promotion and Prevention
Strategies Determine the Impact of Role Models
We began by examining whether inducing promotion or pre-
vention goals would influence the impact of positive and negative
role models on motivation. Previous research suggests that these
goals can be primed by having participants describe personal
experiences relevant to promotion or prevention and explain how
these have changed over time (Higgins et al., 1994). In Study 1, we
used a similar technique, also asking participants to describe
goal-relevant experiences from their own lives. We focused spe-
cifically on academic goals: Participants were asked to describe
the strategies they would use in either successfully promoting a
positive academic outcome or successfully preventing a negative
academic outcome.
After undergoing the goal-priming manipulation, participants
read a description of either a positive or a negative role model. The
positive model had excelled in his or her studies and had achieved
a plum position after leaving university, whereas the negative
model had experienced increasing difficulties over the course of
his or her university studies and ended up working in an undesir-
able fast food job. The model in both cases was at a more
temporally advanced stage than participants, enabling them to
believe that they could become like this individual in the future,
and was described as a graduate from participants own academic
program to ensure that they would perceive the model as relevant
(Lockwood & Kunda, 1997).
We expected that participants would be most strongly motivated
by a role model who encouraged strategies that were congruent
with their primed goals; that is, promotion-primed participants
would be most motivated by the positive model, and prevention-
primed participants would be most motivated by the negative. We
also expected that participants would not be motivated by the role
models who encouraged strategies that were incongruent with their
primed goals, and would likely even show a decline in motivation
in reaction to such incongruent models.
Method
Participants
Participants were 33 male and 70 female students at the University of
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, who participated for course credit. Participants
gender had no effects on any of the variables and is therefore not discussed
further.
Three participants were excluded because they had changed their aca-
demic major since they were recruited for the study, and so were exposed
to a nonrelevant role model (we matched the targets with participants on
academic major because previous research found that individuals were not
influenced by a model in a domain they considered to be irrelevant;
Lockwood & Kunda, 1997). Five participants were excluded because they
disbelieved the cover story. One additional participant was excluded be-
cause she failed to complete the questionnaire. Altogether, 94 participants
were included in the analyses.
Procedure
Goal priming. Participants were invited to take part in a study on Life
Transitions.When they arrived at the lab, the experimenter asked them if
they would fill out a brief pilot questionnaire on academic strategies to help
him with his undergraduate thesis. All participants agreed. In fact, this
questionnaire served to prime regulatory goals. In the promotion-prime
condition, participants were asked to think about a positive academic
outcome that you might want to achieve and to describe the strategies they
could use to successfully promote this outcome.In the prevention-prime
condition, participants were asked to think about a negative academic
outcome that you might want to avoid and to describe the strategies they
could use to successfully prevent this outcome.
Next, participants were informed that the Department of Psychology had
been gathering data on studentsexperiences during and after university to
identify factors related to success and failure. Participants were told that
researchers were collecting data about students impressions of how other
individuals were coping with life transitions and about their own academic
experiences and adjustment.
Role model descriptions. Participants then read a self-description, os-
tensibly written by a previous participant in the study, a recent graduate
from their own academic program. The description portrayed either a
positive or negative role model. The positive role model described positive
academic experiences, and finished the self-description by observing, I
just found out I won a major scholarship [for postgraduate study]. Two
major companies have also contacted me about great positions...Right
now, Im extremely happy with my life. I feel like I know where Im going,
and what I want. I never imagined that my future could be so amazing!
The negative role model described experiencing academic difficulties, and
finished the self-description by observing, I havent been able to find a
good job. I have spent a lot of time working in fast food places, and doing
some pretty boring stuff...Right now Im pretty down about things. Im
not sure where Im going to go from hereI cant afford to go back to
school, but I also cant find a good job. This is not where I expected to be
at this point in my life! For both role model conditions, the description
was individually tailored so that each participant read about a same-gender
target who had just graduated from the same academic major as them-
selves. For example, Chemistry participants read about a recent Chemistry
graduate, and Sociology participants read about a recent Sociology
graduate.
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LOCKWOOD, JORDAN, AND KUNDA
Role model adjustment ratings. After reading the self-description, par-
ticipants were asked to rate the target on five items relating to the role
models adjustment (e.g., How successful do you think this person is?;
How well-adjusted do you think this person is?). Ratings were made on
a 9-point scale with endpoints ranging from 1 (not at all)to9(very).
Motivation ratings. Next, participants went on to Part 2 of the study, in
which they were asked to provide information about themselves. Partici-
pants rated themselves on a set of 14 items (see Appendix A) designed to
tap their academic motivation (e.g., I plan to study harder for tests and
exams; I plan to keep up with reading assignments; I plan to procras-
tinate less).
1
Ratings were made on an 11-point scale with endpoints
labeled 1 (not at all true) and 11 (very true).
A no-target control condition was also included, in which participants
rated themselves on the motivation items without first reading about a
target. In sum, the study had a 2 (primed goal: promotion or preven-
tion) 3 (model type: positive, negative, or none) between-participants
design.
Results and Discussion
Role Model Adjustment Ratings
The five adjustment items were combined into a single index of
models adjustment (Cronbachs
.98). A 2 (primed goal) 2
(model type) analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed a significant
main effect of model type.
2
The positive model was viewed as
much better adjusted (M 8.19) than the negative model
(M 3.14), F(1, 50) 339.02, p .0001. Neither the main effect
of prime type nor the interaction was significant (both ps .50).
Motivation Ratings
Motivation items were combined into a single index of aca-
demic motivation (Cronbachs
.80). As may be seen in
Figure 1, the impact of the role model depended on the goal with
which participants had been primed. Participants exposed to a
goal-congruent role model were more motivated than participants
exposed to no role model, whereas participants exposed to a
goal-incongruent role model were less motivated than those ex-
posed to no role model. A two-way ANOVA revealed this Primed
Goal Model Type interaction to be significant, F(2, 88) 4.37,
p .02. Neither main effect was significant (both Fs 1).
We had predicted that individuals would be motivated by role
models who fostered strategies congruent with their goals, but
discouraged by incongruent role models. To provide more precise
tests of these predictions, we conducted a set of orthogonal con-
trasts. First, we compared the congruent model conditions with the
control and incongruent model conditions; we assigned weights of
1 to each of the congruent role model conditions (promotion-
primed participants exposed to a positive role model and
prevention-primed participants exposed to a negative role model),
and weights of .5 to each of the two control conditions and to
each of the incongruent role model conditions (promotion-primed
participants exposed to a negative model, and prevention-primed
participants exposed to a positive model). This contrast was highly
significant, F(1, 88) 8.00, p .006, indicating that, as expected,
exposure to congruent role models boosted motivation. This pat-
tern held within each of the primed goal conditions. Simple-effects
tests revealed that, within the promotion-primed condition, partic-
ipants exposed to a positive role model (1) were marginally more
motivated than were those exposed to a negative model (.5) and
those exposed to no role model (.5), F(1, 88) 3.68, p .06.
Within the prevention-primed condition, participants exposed to a
negative role model (1) were more motivated than were those
exposed to a positive model (.5) and those exposed to no role
model (.5), F(1, 88) 4.41, p .04.
We also compared the incongruent model conditions with con-
trols; we assigned weights of .5 to each of the two incongruent
role model conditions and weights of .5 to each of the two
control conditions. As expected, participants in the incongruent
conditions showed lower motivation than controls, as may be seen
in Figure 1, but this contrast was not significant, F(1, 88) 1.34,
p .25.
In sum, participants motivation was boosted only by the role
model who encouraged the adoption of strategies that matched
their own goals: Promotion-primed participants were motivated
only by positive role models, and prevention-primed participants
were motivated only by negative role models. As expected, incon-
gruent role models did not boost motivation. We had also sug-
gested that incongruent models might diminish motivation. Al-
1
Eight of the motivation items involved engaging in activities (e.g., I
plan to put more time into my schoolwork) and six involved abstaining
from activities (e.g., I plan to procrastinate less). We had initially
considered the possibility that participants in the two priming conditions
might respond differently to the two types of items (engaging vs. abstain-
ing). However, all items hung together as a highly coherent scale (Cron-
bachs
.80). The engaging and abstaining items did not load onto
separate factors in a factor analysis, and did not behave differently in any
of our analyses. Accordingly, we collapsed across all items to create a
single index of motivation.
2
Control participants were not exposed to a role model and so are not
included in this analysis.
Figure 1. Motivation ratings of promotion- and prevention-primed par-
ticipants after exposure to a positive role model, negative role model, or no
target (Study 1).
857
REGULATORY GOALS AND ROLE MODELS
though this effect was not significant, results were in the predicted
direction. It is possible that the expected decline of motivation in
reaction to incongruent models in this study was minimized be-
cause our priming manipulation may have protected participants
from experiencing this negative effect. Participants were asked to
think about how they would successfully pursue a promotion or
prevention strategy; this focus on success may have served to
counteract any discouragement prompted by the incompatible
models. Therefore, we examined the impact of incongruent models
again in Study 2, but this time we used a priming technique that did
not directly focus participants on their strategies for pursuing
academic success.
Study 2: Primed Promotion and Prevention Goals
Determine the Impact of Role Models
In Study 2, we used a more subtle means of priming promotion
and prevention goals. We aimed to replicate the finding that
participants are motivated only by models who promote strategies
that are congruent with their primed goals. We also wished to test
once again our prediction that goal-incongruent role models can
provoke discouragement. Unlike in Study 1, the priming manipu-
lation did not involve a focus on success and therefore was not
expected to undercut the discouraging potential of incongruent role
models.
In devising our manipulation, we relied on previous research
suggesting that goals can be activated by priming goal-related
words, which triggers the habitual means of satisfying that goal
without intention or awareness (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999). For
example, it has been shown that impression-formation goals can be
activated by exposing individuals to words relevant to that goal,
leading to a corresponding improvement in performance on an
impression-formation task (Chartrand & Bargh, 1996). Similarly,
participants exposed to words related to achievement goals showed
a corresponding improvement in their performance on a subse-
quent anagram-solving task (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999). In
Study 2, we explored the possibility that promotion and prevention
goals could also be activated in this way.
Goals were primed through a word-categorization task that
included words related either to promotion or to prevention (cf.
Wilson & Ross, 2000). Participants then read about a positive role
model, a negative role model, or no role model. We expected that
goal-congruent role models would be inspiring, but goal-
incongruent role models would be discouraging.
Method
Participants
Participants were 24 male and 73 female students enrolled in an intro-
ductory psychology course at the University of Toronto. Participants
gender had no impact on any of the variables, and therefore is not discussed
further.
Six participants were excluded from the analyses because their first
language was not English, and they consequently had difficulties complet-
ing the priming task. Five participants were excluded because they had
changed their academic majors and thus read about a role model in a
nonrelevant domain. One participant was excluded because he failed to
follow the priming instructions. Altogether, 85 participants were included
in the analyses.
Procedure
As in Study 1, participants were invited to take part in a study on Life
Transitions. The experimenter first asked participants if they would com-
plete a brief pilot questionnaire on word associations to help out a Cog-
nitive Psychology student. All participants agreed. This bogus pilot ques-
tionnaire included a goal-priming manipulation based on a procedure
developed by Wilson and Ross (2000).
The ostensible purpose of the pilot study was to test materials to be used
in an experiment assessing word associations. Participants were given a list
of 36 words, and were asked to sort them into three categories. Participants
devised their own categories; labels for the three groups were not provided.
Twenty-four words were related to cooking and to children; the remain-
ing 12 words were related either to promotion or to prevention.
3
Participants then read about a positive or a negative role model, and
provided ratings of target adjustment and of their own motivation. These
materials and measures were the same as those used in Study 1. No-target
control participants rated themselves on the motivation items without first
reading about a target.
Results and Discussion
Ratings of Role Model’s Adjustment
Target adjustment ratings were combined into a single index
(Cronbachs
.98). A 2 2 ANOVA revealed a significant
main effect of role model type, F(1, 50) 204.55, p .0001. The
positive role model was rated as much better adjusted (M 8.35)
than the negative role model (M 3.45). Neither the main effect
of prime type nor the interaction was significant (both ps .25).
Motivation Rating
Motivation items were combined into a single index of motiva-
tion (Cronbachs
.79). As shown in Figure 2, the impact of the
role model depended on the goal with which participants had been
primed. Participants exposed to a goal-congruent role model
showed greater motivation than participants exposed to no role
model, whereas participants exposed to a goal-incongruent role
model showed lower motivation than those exposed to no role
model. A two-way ANOVA revealed this Primed Goal Model
Type interaction to be significant, F(2, 79) 7.29, p .001.
Neither main effect was significant (both Fs 1).
Using the same contrast weights as in Study 1, we conducted a
set of orthogonal contrasts to test the prediction that participants
would be motivated by congruent but discouraged by incongruent
role models. We first compared the congruent model groups
(promotion-primed participants exposed to a positive role model
and prevention-primed participants exposed to a negative role
model) with the incongruent model groups (promotion-primed
participants exposed to a negative role model and prevention-
primed participants exposed to a positive role model) and the
control groups; this contrast was highly significant, F(1,
79) 11.19, p .001, indicating that, as expected, exposure to
congruent role models boosted motivation. Simple-effects tests
revealed that, within the primed-promotion condition, participants
3
The 12 promotion words were: strive, seek, pursue, gain, win, succeed,
ambition, achieve, thrive, triumph, accomplish, aspiration. The 12 preven-
tion words were: avoid, prevent, avert, rejection, mistake, fiasco, flounder,
flunk, defeat, disappointing, setback, fail.
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LOCKWOOD, JORDAN, AND KUNDA
exposed to a positive role model (1) were marginally more
motivated than were those exposed to a negative model (.5) and
those exposed to no role model (.5), F(1, 79) 2.79, p .10.
Within the primed-prevention condition, participants exposed to a
negative role model (1) were more motivated than were those
exposed to a positive model (.5) and those exposed to no role
model (.5), F(1, 79) 9.48, p .003.
We then compared the incongruent role model groups with the
control groups. This contrast was significant, F(1, 79) 3.82, p
.05, indicating that, unlike in Study 1, this time exposure to
incongruent role models reduced motivation. Simple-effects tests
revealed that, within the primed-promotion condition, participants
exposed to a negative role model (1) showed marginally lower
motivation than did those exposed to a positive model (.5) and
those exposed to no role model (.5), F(1, 79) 2.54, p .11.
Within the primed-prevention condition, participants exposed to a
positive role model (1) showed lower motivation than did those
exposed to a negative model (.5) and those exposed to no role
model (.5), F(1, 79) 9.49, p .003.
As in Study 1, participants who were exposed to the role models
that highlighted strategies congruent with their primed goals ex-
perienced enhanced motivation. They intended to work harder to
pursue their goals. In contrast, participants exposed to models that
promoted strategies incongruent with their primed goals experi-
enced reduced motivation; they intended to work less hard. This
suggests that the failure to obtain a comparable reduction in
Study 1 occurred because the priming manipulation in that study
also primed success. In Study 2, the priming did not focus partic-
ipants on their own success; under these circumstances, goal-
incongruent role models did undermine motivation.
Taken together, Studies 1 and 2 suggest that promotion and
prevention goals can determine which role models will increase
ones motivation, and which will reduce it. Individuals who had
been led to adopt promotion goals were motivated only by a
positive role model, who highlighted strategies that could be used
to promote success. In contrast, individuals who had been led to
adopt prevention goals were motivated only by a negative role
model, who highlighted strategies that could be used to prevent
failure. Whereas goal-congruent models can be inspirational, in-
congruent models can be discouraging; such models provoked a
decrease in motivation.
Study 3: Chronic Regulatory Focus Determines
Generation of Real-Life Role Models
Although promotion and prevention goals can be temporarily
enhanced or reduced, there are also ongoing individual differences
in the extent to which individuals are promotion or prevention
oriented (Higgins, 1997, 1998). If transitory goals can determine
whether one will be better motivated by positive or negative role
models, then people who are chronically preoccupied with promo-
tion or prevention goals may be chronically on the lookout for the
kinds of role models who would best motivate thempositive role
models if they are driven by promotion goals and negative role
models if they are driven by prevention goals. If so, when asked
for examples of real-life positive or negative role models who have
motivated them, people should be especially likely to provide
examples that match their dominant goal. We explored this pos-
sibility in Study 3. By showing that chronically accessible promo-
tion and prevention goals affect the impact of role models on
motivation in the same manner as do temporarily induced goals,
we aimed to provide further support for our argument that goal-
congruent role models are especially motivating.
We created a new measure of regulatory focus that assesses
chronic promotion and prevention goals directly. Respondents
indicate the extent to which they endorse items relevant to pro-
motion goals (e.g., I frequently imagine how I will achieve my
hopes and aspirations; I often think about the person I would
ideally like to be in the future) and items relevant to prevention
goals (e.g., I frequently think about how I can prevent failures in
my life; I am anxious that I will fall short of my responsibilities
and obligations). These items were designed to tap into the same
theoretical constructs used by Higgins and his colleagues (e.g.,
Fo¨rster et al., 1998; Higgins et al., 1997; Shah et al., 1998), who
have measured promotion and prevention focus by calculating
differences in the accessibility of ideal and ought self-guides.
Accessibility of ideal and ought self-guides is assumed to reflect
the strength of promotion and prevention concerns because indi-
viduals with promotion goals are concerned with achieving their
hopes, wishes, and aspirations, and are thus likely to have acces-
sible ideal self-guides, whereas individuals with prevention goals
are concerned with safety, protection, and responsibility, and are
thus likely to have accessible ought self-guides. Higgins and his
colleagues have also measured regulatory focus by examining
individuals subjective experiences of success in obtaining past
prevention and promotion goals (Higgins et al., 2001). Our mea-
sure of promotion and prevention was designed to tap into the
theoretical underpinnings of promotion and prevention concerns
directly, providing a concise means of assessing them.
We asked participants to complete the regulatory focus measure,
and then, after they had completed a series of unrelated measures,
Figure 2. Motivation ratings of promotion- and prevention-primed par-
ticipants after exposure to a positive role model, negative role model, or no
target (Study 2).
859
REGULATORY GOALS AND ROLE MODELS
we asked them to generate an example of a person whose success
or failure had motivated them in the past. We expected that
individuals with a dominant promotion focus would be especially
likely to generate examples of successful, positive role models,
whereas individuals with a stronger prevention focus would be
especially likely to generate examples of failed, negative role
models.
Method
Participants
Seven hundred ninety-nine University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada,
undergraduates enrolled in introductory psychology during two different
academic terms completed a larger questionnaire that included our mea-
sures in exchange for partial course credit. Participantsgender showed no
effects in any of our analyses, and so is not discussed further. Ninety-five
participants were not included in our analyses because they failed to
provide appropriate examples of positive or negative role models, leaving
a total of 704 participants (213 male, 490 female, one gender unspecified).
4
Regulatory Focus Questionnaire
Participants were given 1 week to complete and return the questionnaire
that included our measures. Our measure of regulatory focus, which
consists of two subscales designed to measure promotion and prevention
goals (see Appendix B), always appeared first. Both subscales were reli-
able (promotion
.81, prevention
.75), and were modestly corre-
lated with one another (r .17, p .01). All items were rated on a 9-point
scale with endpoints labeled 1 (not at all true of me)and9(very true of
me).
Recalled-Role-Model Measure
Following a series of unrelated scales, participants were asked to write
an open-ended description of a time when they were motivated in a domain
that was important to them by either the success or failure of another
person.
You may have found another persons failure motivating because
when you found out that this person had performed really poorly at an
activity that you cared about, this made you worry that you too might
do really poorly at that activity, and motivated you to try harder to
avoid failing yourself. Or you may have found another persons
success motivating because when you found out that this person had
excelled at an activity that you cared about, this made you hopeful that
you too could do really well at that activity, and motivated you to
work harder to achieve excellence yourself.
They were then asked to describe such an experience.
The order in which success and failure examples were described in the
instructions was counterbalanced across participants and showed no effects
in our analyses.
Results and Discussion
The examples generated by participants in response to the
recalled-role-model measure were coded by a judge blind to re-
spondents regulatory focus for whether they described a case of
motivation by anothers success (i.e., a positive role model) or
motivation by anothers failure (i.e., a negative role model). An
independent judge, also blind to participants regulatory focus,
completed the same coding for a subset of responses (n 207) and
showed high agreement (Cohens
.95).
Participants provided vivid examples of being motivated by the
success or failure of another person. Most of the examples (47.8%)
were in the domain of academic achievement, but there were also
examples in other domains such as sports, arts, and social
behavior.
To illustrate, some examples of inspiration by a positive role
model were as follows:
In one of my classes I did poorly on a midterm, whereas a friend in
the same class did quite well. After talking with this friend about their
study habits, I was motivated to change my own habits for the
bettermodeling them after hers. This has helped me to perform
better on evaluations in that class.
My best friend from camp excelled at swimming. She can do 80
lengths in 35 minutes. Her increase in ability is due to her strength and
determination. This has motivated me to want to improve my endur-
ance and try to obtain the same level as her.
A friend of mine recently got a record deal in the music business. Her
success influenced me to continue on in singing with hopes that one
day I may become a successful singer. And plus, I compete at the
regional level and look to her as inspiration whenever I sing.
Some examples of being motivated by a negative role model
were as follows:
I am motivated more by others failures. Two friends on my floor
from first year failed out of engineering. I was motivated to work
really hard so that the same wouldnt happen to me.
Last year, one of my best friends started her first year at college. She
ended up missing a lot of classes and partied so much that she failed
and was not able to come back for her 2nd semester and still has not
gone back. Although it was an unfortunate experience for her, this has
motivated me to stay focused here at university and to take priority of
my academic success rather than social situations.
I feel motivated to be more patient with people because my dad is very
quick to be angry, and I do not want to turn out like him.
For our measure of regulatory focus, we created a measure of
promotion goal strength and a measure of prevention goal strength
by averaging the items belonging to each of these subscales. On
average, promotion goal strength (M 6.90) was greater than
prevention goal strength (M 5.31), t(700) 26.97, p .001.
Perhaps for this reason, most participants (73%) generated positive
role models rather than negative ones.
We expected that participants likelihood of recalling a positive
role model (rather than a negative one) would increase with the
strength of their promotion goals, but decrease with the strength of
their prevention goals. To test this prediction, we conducted a
logistic regression analysis using type of role model as the depen-
4
Responses were considered inappropriate if respondents indicated that
they were motivated by the targets verbal encouragement rather than by
the targets performance, if they indicated that they were never motivated
by anothers success or failure, if it was unclear whether the targets
performance was a success or failure, if the targets performance directly
affected the respondents outcome (as in a group project or team sport), or
if the respondent specified his or her own past performance as the source
of motivation. The regulatory focus scores of participants who were elim-
inated (M 1.65) did not significantly differ from the scores of those
included in the analyses (M 1.60), t(797) 0.31, ns.
860
LOCKWOOD, JORDAN, AND KUNDA
dent variable (dummy coded; 0 negative role model, 1
positive role model), and scores on the promotion and prevention
goals subscales as the predictors, after first standardizing scores on
the promotion and prevention subscales. This analysis revealed
that both promotion and prevention goal strength had the predicted
effect on the type of role model participants recalled: Participants
with stronger promotion goals were more likely to recall positive
role models (
.29), t(698) 3.31, p .001, whereas partic-
ipants with stronger prevention goals were less likely to recall
positive role models, that is, they were more likely to recall
negative ones (
⫽⫺.28), t(698) 3.15, p .002.
We were also interested in examining the impact of the relative
strength of each participants promotion and prevention goals,
because regardless of the strength of each of these goals, their
relative strength may determine which regulatory concerns will
gain salience and drive behavior. We expected that the greater the
relative strength of promotion goals (over prevention goals), the
more likely the participant would be to recall a positive role model
(rather than a negative one). To test this prediction, we created a
measure of dominant regulatory focus by subtracting scores on the
prevention goal subscale from scores on the promotion goal sub-
scale. Higher scores on this measure reflect relatively greater
promotion than prevention focus. It should be noted that our
reliance on this difference-score measure is justified by the anal-
yses reported above, which revealed that our data meet the criteria
required to satisfy the model underlying a difference score analysis
(see Edwards, 1994, 1995): Promotion and prevention goal
strengths had independent, equal but opposite effects on the ten-
dency to recall positive role models.
We regressed the type of role model recalled on this measure of
dominant regulatory focus, after first standardizing scores on the
predictor. This analysis revealed that, as expected, participants
with relatively stronger promotion goals were more likely to recall
positive role models (
.37), t(699) 4.08, p .001. To
illustrate this effect, we classified participants as either high or low
in the relative strength of their promotion goals, on the basis of a
median split on the measure of dominant regulatory focus (the
median was 1.56). The percentage of participants who recalled
positive role models was greater among those high in the relative
strength of their promotion goals (78.6%) than among those low in
the relative strength of their promotion goals (68.1%).
It is interesting that even among participants low in the relative
strength of their promotion goals, the majority recalled positive
rather than negative role models. This may be because even for
these participants, the strength of promotion goals was, on average,
greater than the strength of prevention goals; their average differ-
ence score was positive (M 0.39). In the absence of temporarily
primed-prevention goals, the majority of individuals in student
populations may be predominantly promotion focused; we would
therefore expect that most of these individuals will typically be
more motivated by positive than by negative models. This is
consistent with earlier research suggesting that individuals can be
inspired spontaneously by positive role models (Lockwood &
Kunda, 1997), but are motivated by negative role models only if
they imagine a future self like the worse-off other (Lockwood,
2002).
Together, these results suggest that the kinds of role models that
one selects to guide one in daily life may be determined by the
strength of ones chronic promotion and prevention goals. It is also
possible, however, that these results reflect differences in the
accessibility of different types of role models rather than differ-
ences in the types of models one chooses; for example, promotion-
focused individuals may use both positive and negative role mod-
els to guide their behavior, but may recall the goal-congruent
positive examples more readily. This seems unlikely, given that
participants in Study 2 were discouraged by goal-incongruent
models. In any case, the notion that congruent models are more
memorable is also consistent with our view; it implies that con-
gruent models may be especially likely to be recalled and to
influence motivation over the long run.
The results obtained with the new measure of chronic promotion
and prevention goals in Study 3 are conceptually similar to those
obtained in Studies 1 and 2, in which promotion and prevention
goals were primed: In all three studies, goal-congruent role models
were associated with enhanced motivation, lending convergent
validity to our claim that the motivational impact of role models
can depend on their fit with ones regulatory focus. These findings
also bolster support for the validity of our new measure of goal
strength. This easily-administered scale may provide a useful
alternative to more time-consuming reaction-time measures of
regulatory focus.
General Discussion
The impact of role models on motivation depends on the
strength of ones regulatory concerns with promotion and preven-
tion. We have found that role models are most likely to enhance
motivation when they encourage the adoption of strategies that one
is especially ready to implement, due to ones salient regulatory
focus. Promotion-focused individuals, who use a strategy of pur-
suing desired outcomes, will find positive role models to be
especially motivating; prevention-focused individuals, who use a
strategy of avoiding undesired outcomes, will find negative role
models to be especially motivating. However, role models who
encourage strategies that are incongruent with ones regulatory
concerns can undermine motivation. Incongruent role models can
disrupt individuals preferred strategies without providing an al-
ternative that they are ready to seize upon (cf. Norem & Cantor,
1986).
In our studies, promotion and prevention goals exerted similar
influences on the motivational impact of role models regardless of
whether these goals were chronic or temporarily induced. These
goals determined the impact of both fictitious role models encoun-
tered in the lab and real-life models encountered in the course of
participants daily lives. Using two different goal-priming tech-
niques, we found that goal-congruent role models encountered
in the lab were motivating (Studies 1 and 2) whereas goal-
incongruent role models were discouraging (Study 2). Similarly,
individuals chronic promotion and prevention goals guided their
recall of real-life role models that had motivated them (Study 3);
participants were especially likely to report being motivated by
role models congruent with their chronically dominant goals.
Regulatory theory assumes an intimate link between promotion
and prevention goals and concerns with possible selves; indeed,
Higgins and his colleagues (e.g., Higgins et al., 1997; Shah &
Higgins, 2001; Shah et al., 1998) have assessed chronic promotion
and prevention goals by measuring the accessibility of ideal and
ought selves, respectively. The earlier work showed that ongoing
861
REGULATORY GOALS AND ROLE MODELS
preoccupation with ideal or ought possible selves can be indicative
of ongoing motivation to pursue promotion and prevention; we go
beyond this by showing that this causal chain can proceed in the
other direction as well. It has been shown that role models exert
their impact by highlighting plausible possible or feared selves and
pointing to strategies for pursuing or avoiding such selves (Lock-
wood, 2002; Lockwood & Kunda, 1997, 1999). Our studies sug-
gest that increases in the strength of promotion and prevention
goals can provoke an increased sensitivity to the corresponding
possible selves, and an increased inclination to gain motivation by
pursuing those strategies fostered by contemplating such ideal or
feared selves. This supports and extends the assumptions of reg-
ulatory theory regarding the relatedness of regulatory focus and
concerns with possible selves.
These studies have important implications for understanding
how goals can influence the impact of social comparisons on
behavior. Previous research on this topic has focused largely on the
impact of comparisons on mood and on self-esteem (cf. Collins,
1996; Wood, 1989); motivational outcomes have not typically
been assessed, perhaps because most relevant research has exam-
ined the impact of one-shot comparison experiences in which
individuals have little chance to improve or decline. Such research
may be unable to uncover the impact of social comparison on
motivation because one is only likely to be motivated by a superior
or inferior other who exemplifies a self that one believes one may
become (cf. Aspinwall, 1997; Lockwood, 2002; Lockwood &
Kunda, 1997). Our research extends work on social comparison by
demonstrating that both better-off and worse-off others can have
an impact on motivation, and that regulatory goals can determine
the nature of this impact. By examining the effects of role models,
we can also begin to investigate the longer-term impact of social
comparisons on behavior. Individuals may select those role models
that help them maintain their motivation over sustained periods of
time. For promotion-focused individuals, a positive role model
will serve as a constant reminder of accomplishments that are to be
pursued, whereas for prevention-focused individuals, a negative
role model will provide an ongoing warning about mistakes that
should be avoided.
This research also has important practical implications for the
design of programs that use role models to inspire individuals or to
change behavior patterns. It has been proposed that self-regulation
involving a positive reference point is typically more common than
self-regulation involving a negative reference point (Carver &
Scheier, 1990). Consistent with this perspective, Study 3 suggests
that for the majority of individuals, promotion goals are stronger
than prevention goals. Thus, positive role models may as a rule be
more effective motivators than negative models. Indeed, previous
research suggests that although individuals are often spontane-
ously inspired by positive role models (Lockwood & Kunda,
1999), they are not typically influenced by the experiences of
worse-off others unless they are asked to reflect on the parallels
between themselves and the other (Lockwood, 2002). This pattern
may be unique to individuals in cultures characterized by indepen-
dent self-construals, who tend to have a regulatory focus domi-
nated by promotion goals. There is evidence to suggest that among
individuals with more interdependent self-construals, prevention
goals may be more dominant (Lee, Aaker, & Gardner, 2000); in
collectivist cultures, therefore, negative role models may motivate
individuals to a greater degree than will positive role models.
Although individuals in Western culture may tend to be more
motivated by positive than negative role models, the kind of role
model that they are most receptive to in a given situation may
depend on the configuration of goals that are salient in that
situation. Because the relative strength of promotion and preven-
tion goals can vary in response to situational cues, the impact of
any role model can be heightened by first orienting individuals
toward the goal whose pursuit is encouraged by that model, as
shown by Studies 1 and 2. For example, a program that uses an
HIV-positive model to encourage an audience of teens to avoid
unsafe sex practices may be most successful if one first induces a
prevention focus among audience members. In contrast, a program
that seeks to increase athletic motivation among high school stu-
dents by exposing them to star athletes may be more effective if
the students promotion goals are first made salient. By encourag-
ing the audience to focus on goals that are congruent with the
strategies fostered by the model, one may also reduce the possi-
bility that the model will have an unintended negative impact; one
would not want to risk undermining motivation to exercise or to
avoid unsafe sex by exposing individuals to goal-incongruent
models. By increasing the salience of the appropriate regulatory
goal, one should be able to maximize the motivating impact of role
models on their target audiences.
Thus, role models will best enhance motivation when they foster
strategies that fit individualscurrent regulatory concerns. Individ-
uals chronic preoccupation with promotion and prevention goals
will likely influence the kinds of role models that they usually
gravitate toward spontaneously in the course of their daily lives.
Nevertheless, most individuals are likely to be receptive to both
positive and negative role models, on at least some occasions.
Situational factors that heighten the salience of a given regulatory
concernpromotion or preventioncan enhance ones openness
to inspiration by role models that encourage strategies for advanc-
ing that concern.
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(Appendixes follow)
863
REGULATORY GOALS AND ROLE MODELS
Received August 30, 2001
Revision received February 18, 2002
Accepted February 20, 2002
Appendix A
Motivation Scale Items
Using the scale below, please write the appropriate number in the blank
beside each item.
1234567891011
not at very
all true
true
1. I plan to put more time into my schoolwork.
2. I plan to study harder for tests and exams.
3. I plan to spend less time partying with friends.
4. I plan to put extra effort into the rest of my term papers.
5. I plan to keep up with reading assignments.
6. I plan to procrastinate less.
7. I plan to start studying for finals before the term ends.
8. I plan to spend more time at the library.
9. I plan to stop engaging in social activities that interfere with
schoolwork.
10. I plan to avoid wasting time.
11. I plan to be more organized.
12. I plan to avoid missing work deadlines.
13. I plan to be less casual about schoolwork.
14. I plan to focus more on my studies.
Appendix B
Promotion/Prevention Scale
Using the scale below, please write the appropriate number in the blank
beside each item.
123456789
Not at Very
all true true of
of me me
1. In general, I am focused on preventing negative events in my
life.
2. I am anxious that I will fall short of my responsibilities and
obligations.
3. I frequently imagine how I will achieve my hopes and aspira-
tions.
4. I often think about the person I am afraid I might become in the
future.
5. I often think about the person I would ideally like to be in the
future.
6. I typically focus on the success I hope to achieve in the future.
7. I often worry that I will fail to accomplish my academic goals.
8. I often think about how I will achieve academic success.
9. I often imagine myself experiencing bad things that I fear might
happen to me.
10. I frequently think about how I can prevent failures in my life.
11. I am more oriented toward preventing losses than I am toward
achieving gains.
12. My major goal in school right now is to achieve my academic
ambitions.
13. My major goal in school right now is to avoid becoming an
academic failure.
14. I see myself as someone who is primarily striving to reach my
ideal self”—to fulfill my hopes, wishes, and aspirations.
15. I see myself as someone who is primarily striving to become the
self I ought to beto fulfill my duties, responsibilities, and
obligations.
16. In general, I am focused on achieving positive outcomes in my
life.
17. I often imagine myself experiencing good things that I hope will
happen to me.
18. Overall, I am more oriented toward achieving success than
preventing failure.
864
LOCKWOOD, JORDAN, AND KUNDA
... The effect of interpersonal regulatory fit on empathy, helping intentions, and prosocial behaviour more positively [27], people being more motivated by role models of the same regulatory focus [56], and supervisees experiencing greater commitment and better relationship quality with supervisors in the workplace when they share the same regulatory focus [30]. A crucial difference compared to the present work is that in these studies the regulatory focus of the to-beconsidered targets was conveyed rather clearly through their regulatory concerns [e.g., goals], whereas in the current work targets' regulatory focus was conveyed merely through their emotional reaction to distressing situations. ...
... In other words, the bulk of previous work investigated interpersonal regulatory fit in the context of goal-pursuit. For example, outcome variables included turnover intentions [31], expending greater effort at work [32], motivational benefits in goal-pursuit [11] or motivational gains [56]. On the other hand, emotions-the outcome of [un]successful goal pursuit-received attention at the individual [e.g., 10] but not at the interpersonal level [but see 34, for an exception]. ...
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