Regulatory Fit Theory

I find it fascinating that the human motivation can be triggered by two main goals: the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain (psychological theory of regulatory focus, Florack et al., 2013; Higgins, 1998).

A person with the so-called promotion focus pursues goals for the sake of achievement or advancement. Someone who has a prevention focus focuses on security and protection.

For example, someone may want to improve their health by: 1) getting exercise and eating organic food (promotion), or 2) not engaging in bad habits such as smoking or eating junk food (prevention). Such orientations depend on one's personality and particular situation.

According to the regulatory fit theory, communication messages presented as gains are more influential under a promotion focus, while those presented as losses carry more weight in a prevention focus.

In the video below from the CDC MessageWorks, however, health messages are more effective when targeted against the person's regulatory fit. In other words, this theory is not fool-proof and, like many aspects of psychology, will work differently according to the person, context, and target behavior.


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.