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Self-Discrepancy and Regulatory Focus  

E. Tory Higgins and Emily Nakkawita

Self-discrepancy theory and regulatory focus theory are two related motivational theories. Self-discrepancy theory describes the associations between self and affect, positing that the relations among different sets of self-concepts influence a person’s emotional experience. A discrepancy between a person’s ideal self-guide (e.g., hopes and aspirations) and his or her actual self-concept produces dejection-related emotions (e.g., sadness), whereas a discrepancy between a person’s ought self-guide (e.g., duties and obligations) and his or her actual self-concept produces agitation-related emotions (e.g., anxiety). The intensity of these emotional experiences depends upon the magnitude and accessibility of the associated discrepancy. Regulatory focus theory builds on self-discrepancy theory, positing that distinct self-regulatory systems are reflected in the two types of self-guides proposed in self-discrepancy theory. The promotion system is motivated by ideal end-states, by pursuing hopes and aspirations; as a result, it is primarily concerned with the presence or absence of positive outcomes—with gains and non-gains. Given this focus on gains and non-gains, the promotion system is motivated by fundamental needs for nurturance and growth. In contrast, the prevention system is motivated by ought end-states, by fulfilling duties and obligations; as a result, it is primarily concerned with the presence or absence of negative outcomes—with losses and non-losses. Given this focus on losses and non-losses, the prevention system is motivated by fundamental needs for safety and security. The promotion and prevention systems predict a range of important variables relating to cognition, performance, and decision-making.