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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Preliminary EASP Pre-Registered Grant Report by Anand Krishna

06.09.2021, by Tina Keil in grant report

University of Würzburg, Germany

This preregistered research grant was used to fund participant compensation for the experiments described in Krishna (in press) after Stage 1 acceptance in Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology (CRSP). The final manuscript is in preparation for post-data collection submission.


Regulatory focus theory (Higgins, 1997) differentiates between two motivational states, a promotion and a prevention focus. The former is concerned with achieving nurturance goals while the latter is concerned with achieving security goals. The theory makes specific predictions about behavioural strategies that are preferred depending on an individual’s current regulatory focus. Specifically, a promotion focus should lead to an emphasis on risky strategies that approach matches to the goal state, whereas a prevention focus should lead to an emphasis on vigilant strategies that avoid mismatches to the goal state.
One of the core predictions of regulatory focus theory is derived from its application to signal detection theory (Green & Swets, 1966). Specifically, regulatory focus theory predicts that in a yes/no signal detection task, a promotion focus should be conducive to a risky “yes” bias, while a prevention focus should lead to a “no” bias. While this conceptual assumption has been applied in much research since, the core proposition has only been empirically tested twice (Crowe & Higgins, 1997; Friedman & Förster, 2001). Both studies utilized sample sizes that would be considered too small for reliable effect detection by current standards.

In addition, some conceptual confusion has arisen in the years since the theory’s original formulation with regard to the distinction between active prevention-focused behaviour and inhibition of behaviour. Research indicating that a prevention focus is associated with slower and more accurate responses (e.g. Förster et al., 2003) as well as with favouring the status quo (Chernev, 2004), taken together with the overlap between avoidance and inhibition in some of the literature (e.g. Gray, 1983), have led to a conflation of a prevention focus with increased behavioural inhibition (see also Corr, 2013). On the other hand, several other studies (Scholer et al., 2010) and conceptual analyses (Scholer et al., 2019) have concluded that a prevention focus is expressed (only) in energizing avoidance-related behaviour rather than facilitating behavioural inhibition. Thus, it remains unclear whether the predicted “no” bias for prevention-focused individuals would generalize to tasks in which the “no” categorization is expressed via inhibition rather than active responding, such as the Go/Nogo task (e.g. Nosek & Banaji, 2001).

Research Supported by the Grant

In order to test the empirical stability of signal detection response biases as a function of regulatory focus and extend them to inhibition-focused tasks, I conducted one pilot study and three further experiments using a Go/Nogo paradigm and different regulatory focus manipulations. The results showed no effects of regulatory focus on response biases, even when aggregated. However, it remained unclear whether this null finding was due to the reliance of the paradigm on behavioural inhibition, with its inherent limitation on cognitive elaboration (due to the time pressure under which the task was performed), or whether the original regulatory focus prediction for signal detection response biases was insufficiently robust.

Thus, the registered report for which the preregistered research grant was issued attempted to address these questions. It proposed a pilot study in order to identify the optimal manipulation of regulatory focus for this task, followed by a study that investigated which aspects of the Go/Nogo paradigm might have led to the failure to confirm the predictions. Specifically, the proposed experiment manipulated regulatory focus in a word memory task based on previous studies that had found response bias effects in the past (Crowe & Higgins, 1997; Friedman & Förster, 2001). In this task, participants learned word lists, then attempted to categorize words as familiar or unfamiliar after a 30 minute break. The expectation was that a promotion focus should lead to a “yes” bias in the recognition phase compared to a prevention focus’ “no” bias. Orthogonally, the experiment also manipulated time pressure during the recognition phase decisions. Thus, the experiment was capable of testing the aforementioned possible reasons for the null finding in the initial studies against one another: if the lack of a regulatory focus effect was because a prevention focus could only be expressed through active behaviour rather than inhibition, it should manifest in this study independently of time pressure due to the active categorization of words as familiar/unfamiliar. If the effect’s lack was due to a constraint on cognitive elaboration from the time pressure in the Go/Nogo task, it should manifest in this study specifically in the group with no time pressure constraint. Finally, if the prediction from regulatory focus theory itself was false or the effect was smaller than the theory implied, then this new study should also find no effect.

The funds from the preregistered grant were committed to compensate participants in this study, which required a sample size of at least 232 participants.

Conclusions and Next Steps

Due to the registered report specifying data collection in the laboratory, the Covid19 pandemic delayed the project significantly. Data collection was ultimately conducted online after securing permission from the journal to switch from a laboratory setup, a year after the grant was first issued. The analysis has not yet been completed. However, the final manuscript is being prepared for timely submission and hopefully publication by the end of 2021 – an outcome which would have been impossible without the support of the EASP preregistered research grant.


  • Chernev, A. (2004). Goal orientation and consumer preference for the status quo. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(3), 557–565.
  • Corr, P. J. (2013). Approach and Avoidance Behaviour: Multiple Systems and their Interactions. Emotion Review, 5(3), 285–290.
  • Crowe, E., & Higgins, E. T. (1997). Regulatory Focus and Strategic Inclinations: Promotion and Prevention in Decision-Making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 69(2), 117–132.
  • Förster, J., Higgins, E. T., & Bianco, A. T. (2003). Speed/accuracy decisions in task performance: Built-in trade-off or separate strategic concerns? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 90(1), 148–164.
  • Friedman, R. S., & Förster, J. (2001). The effects of promotion and prevention cues on creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(6), 1001–1013.
  • Gray, J. A. (1983). 3—Anxiety, Personality and the Brain. In A. Gale & J. A. Edwards (Eds.), Individual Differences and Psychopathology (Vol. 3, pp. 31–43). Academic Press.
  • Green, D. M., & Swets, J. A. (1966). Signal detection theory and psychophysics. Wiley.
  • Higgins, E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist, 52(12), 1280–1300.
  • Krishna, A. (in press). Revisiting the influence of regulatory focus on eagerness and vigilance in signal detection. Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology.
  • Nosek, B. A., & Banaji, M. R. (2001). The Go/No-Go Association Task. Social Cognition, 19(6), 625–666.
  • Scholer, A. A., Cornwell, J. F., & Higgins, E. T. (2019). Regulatory Focus Theory and Research. The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation, 47.
  • Scholer, A. A., Zou, X., & Fujita, K. (2010). When Risk Seeking Becomes a Motivational Necessity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(2), 215–231.