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Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst : Regulatory focus optimality in high and low-intensity conflict

Peter T. Coleman (Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, New York, New York, USA and Teachers College of Columbia University, New York, New York, USA)
Katharina G. Kugler (Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany)
Robin Vallacher (Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida, USA)
Regina Kim (IESEG School of Management – Campus de Paris, Paris La Defense, France)

International Journal of Conflict Management

ISSN: 1044-4068

Article publication date: 10 October 2018

Issue publication date: 8 February 2019




The purpose of this paper is to propose that a more optimal regulatory focus in conflict reflects a mix of promotion and prevention considerations because conflict often elicits needs for promoting well-being as well as needs for preventing threats to security and interests. Two studies using distinct methodologies tested the hypothesis that social conflict is associated with better outcomes when the parties construe the conflict with a regulatory focus that reflects a combination of both promotion and prevention orientations.


Study 1 was an experiment that framed the same low-intensity conflict scenario as either prevention- or promotion-focused, or as both. In Study 2, we mouse-coded stream-of-thought accounts of participants’ actual ongoing high-intensity conflicts for time spent in both promotion and prevention focus.


In Study 1, the combined framing resulted in greater satisfaction with expected conflict outcomes and goal attainment than did either prevention or promotion framing alone. However, a promotion frame alone was associated with greater process and relationship satisfaction. These results were replicated in Study 2.


Prior research on regulatory focus has emphasized the benefits of a promotion focus over prevention when managing conflict. The present research offers new insight into how these seemingly opposing motives can operate in tandem to increase conflict satisfaction. Thus, this research illustrates the value of moving beyond dichotomized motivational distinctions in conflict research, to understand the dynamic interplay of how these distinctions may be navigated in concert for more effective conflict engagement. It also illustrates the value of mouse-coding methods for capturing the dynamic interplay of motives as they rise and fall in salience over time.



The authors wish to thank Jen Hull, Amy Paris and Katrina Gurguis for their valuable assistance with data collection.


Coleman, P.T., Kugler, K.G., Vallacher, R. and Kim, R. (2019), "Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst : Regulatory focus optimality in high and low-intensity conflict", International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 45-64.



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