I’ve been confused by two sets of concepts mentioned in the human motvation literature. On the one hand there is the distinction between approach and avoidance motivation; on the other hand there is the distinction between prevention and promotion focus. I did not understand the difference between the two so I tried to understand. It turns out they are indeed subtly different. Here is an explanation of those concepts:

  1. Approach versus avoidance motivation: An approach motivation is a motivation to reach a positive (desired) end state while and avoidance motivation is a motivation to avoid a negative (undesired) end state.
  2. Promotion versus prevention focus: a promotion focus is about trying to reach positive outcomes/gains while a prevention focus is about trying to achieve a non-negative end state.

So what is the difference between the two distinctions? Molden, Lee, & Higgins (2008) explain the difference using a 2×2 model. Here is my adaptation of that model:  

What does this mean for progress?

Thus, with an approach-prevention orientation the outcome of 0 (not losing) is perfectly fine, whereas with an approach-promotion orientation this isn’t. An approach-promotion requires the outcome to be positive (+) before the person will be satisfied. So what does this mean for the definition of progress? For someone with an approach-prevention focus a shift from ─ → 0 will be seen as meaningful progress while a shift from 0 → + will not be so meaningful. However, for someone with an approach-promotion focus a shift from ─ → 0 may not be seens as meaningful while a shift from 0 → + will be seen as meaningful progress.

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