Research Archive

Regulatory Focus Theory: Implications for the Study of Emotions at Work

Publication type: Journal article

Research Archive Topic: Leadership, Organizations


Previous theory and research have shown that people have two distinct self-regulatory foci. When promotion focused, people are motivated by growth and development needs in which they attempt to bring their actual selves (their behaviors and self-conceptions) in alignment with their ideal selves (self-standards based on wishes and aspirations of how they would like to be). When prevention focused, people are responsive to security needs in which they try to match their actual selves with their ought selves (self-standards based on felt duties and responsibilities). Strategically, eagerness or ensuring gains predominate for promotion-focused persons, whereas vigilance or ensuring nonlosses predominate for prevention-focused persons. People's regulatory focus influences the nature and magnitude of their emotional experience. Promotion-focused people's emotions vary along a cheerful-dejected dimension, whereas prevention-focused people's emotions vary along a quiescent-agitated dimension. We consider the implications of the relationship between regulatory focus and emotions for such topics as person/organization fit, goal-setting theory, expectancy-valence theory, behavioral decision theory, and employee resistance to organizational change. Possible antecedents of employees' regulatory focus also are discussed.
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Brockner, Joel, and E. Tory Higgins. "Regulatory Focus Theory: Its Implications for the Study of Emotions in the Workplace." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 86, no. 1 (September 2001): 35-66.

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