Individual Differences in the Neural Response to Personal Goal Pursuit Success and Failure: A Developmental Analysis
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Regulatory focus theory (RFT) proposes two different social-cognitive motivational systems for goal pursuit: a promotion system, which is organized around strategic approach behaviors and "making good things happen," and a prevention system, which is organized around strategic avoidance and "keeping bad things from happening." The promotion and prevention systems have been extensively studied in behavioral paradigms, and RFT posits that prolonged perceived failure to make progress in pursuing promotion or prevention goals can lead to ineffective goal pursuit and chronic distress (Higgins, 1997).
Research has begun to focus on uncovering the neural correlates of the promotion and prevention systems in an attempt to differentiate them at the neurobiological level. Preliminary research suggests that the promotion and prevention systems have both distinct and overlapping neural correlates (Eddington, Dolcos, Cabeza, Krishnan, & Strauman, 2007; Strauman et al., 2013). However, little research has examined how individual differences in regulatory focus develop and manifest. The development of individual differences in regulatory focus is particularly salient during adolescence, a crucial topic to explore given the dramatic neurodevelopmental and psychosocial changes that take place during this time, especially with regard to self-regulatory abilities. A number of questions remain unexplored, including the potential for goal-related neural activation to be modulated by (a) perceived proximity to goal attainment, (b) individual differences in regulatory orientation, specifically general beliefs about one's success or failure in attaining the two kinds of goals, (c) age, with a particular focus on adolescence, and (d) homozygosity for the Met allele of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met polymorphism, a naturally occurring genotype which has been shown to impact prefrontal cortex activation patterns associated with goal pursuit behaviors.
This study explored the neural correlates of the promotion and prevention systems through the use of a priming paradigm involving rapid, brief, masked presentation of individually selected promotion and prevention goals to each participant while being scanned. The goals used as priming stimuli varied with regard to whether participants reported that they were close to or far away from achieving them (i.e. a "match" versus a "mismatch" representing perceived success or failure in personal goal pursuit). The study also assessed participants' overall beliefs regarding their relative success or failure in attaining promotion and prevention goals, and all participants were genotyped for the COMT Val158Met polymorphism.
A number of significant findings emerged. Both promotion and prevention priming were associated with activation in regions associated with self-referential cognition, including the left medial prefrontal cortex, cuneus, and lingual gyrus. Promotion and prevention priming were also associated with distinct patterns of neural activation; specifically, left middle temporal gyrus activation was found to be significantly greater during prevention priming. Activation in response to promotion and prevention goals was found to be modulated by self-reports of both perceived proximity to goal achievement and goal orientation. Age also had a significant effect on activation, such that activation in response to goal priming became more robust in the prefrontal cortex and in default mode network regions as a function of increasing age. Finally, COMT genotype also modulated the neural response to goal priming both alone and through interactions with regulatory focus and age. Overall, these findings provide further clarification of the neural underpinnings of the promotion and prevention systems as well as provide information about the role of development and individual differences at the personality and genetic level on activity in these neural systems.
DepartmentPsychology and Neuroscience
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