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Repeating the Follies of the Past: A Regulatory Focus Perspective

Shu Zhang, 2012
Faculty Advisor: E. Tory Higgins

Abstract

Adopting a regulatory focus perspective, I study why people repeat a prior behavior that could be unpleasant, ineffective, or unethical. Driven by the concerns to avoid negative deviations from the status quo, the prevention aspect of self-regulation (i.e., prevention focus) is associated with the motivation to maintain the status quo (Higgins, 2005). Previous findings showing a prevention focus motivation to maintain the status quo suggest that sticking with a precedent is a safe choice that fits with prevention focus. Putting this motivation to a more challenging test, nine studies show that maintaining the status quo is a deep motivation for prevention focus that transcends hedonic, utilitarian, and ethical concerns. Specifically, being in a prevention focus, either measured as a chronic disposition or induced as a psychological state, increases the likelihood of 1) copying the managing behaviors of a role model, even when these behaviors are perceived as unpleasant or ineffective (Studies 1-5), and 2) repeating one's own choices regarding ethical behavior, regardless of whether the initial choice was ethical or not (Studies 6-9). Implications of this research and future directions are discussed.

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