The psychological theory of regulatory focus (Florack et al., 2013; Higgins, 1998) holds that human motivation is rooted in the approach of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, i.e. it differentiates a promotion focus from a prevention focus. The former involves the pursuit of goals that are achievement- or advancement-related, characterized by eagerness, whereas the latter focuses on security and protection, characterized by vigilance. For example, a person can become healthy by either engaging in physical activity and eating organic food, or refraining from bad habits such as smoking or eating junk food. Prevention and promotion orientations are a matter of both enduring dispositions and situational factors.

According to regulatory fit theory, messages and frames that are presented as gains are more influential under a promotion focus, whereas those presented as non-gains or losses carry more weight in a prevention focus. For example, research by Lee and Aaker (2004) found that ‘gain frames’ in advertising (“Get energized”) lead to more favorable attitudes when the body of the advertising message is written in promotional terms (e.g. emphasizing the energy benefits of drinking grape juice), whilst ‘loss frames’ (“Don’t miss out on getting energized!”) have a more favorable effect when the main body of the ad focuses on prevention (e.g. stressing the cancer reduction benefits of drinking grape juice).

 

Florack, A., Keller, J., & Palcu, J. (2013). Regulatory focus in economic contexts. Journal of Economic Psychology, 38, 127–137.

Higgins, E. T. (1998). Promotion and prevention: Regulatory focus as a motivational principle. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.). Advances in Experimental Psychology (Vol. 30, pp. 1–46). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Lee, A. Y., & Aaker, J. L. (2004). Bringing the frame into focus: The influence of regulatory fit on processing fluency and persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 205-218.

 
 

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