Neural signatures of promotion versus prevention goal priming: fMRI evidence for distinct cognitive-motivational systems.

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Detloff, Allison M
Hariri, Ahmad R
Strauman, Timothy J

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Regulatory focus theory (RFT) postulates two cognitive-motivational systems for personal goal pursuit: the promotion system, which is associated with ideal goals (an individual's hopes, dreams, and aspirations), and the prevention system, which is associated with ought goals (an individual's duties, responsibilities, and obligations). The two systems have been studied extensively in behavioral research with reference to differences between promotion and prevention goal pursuit as well as the consequences of perceived attainment versus nonattainment within each system. However, no study has examined the neural correlates of each combination of goal domain and goal attainment status. We used a rapid masked idiographic goal priming paradigm and functional magnetic resonance imaging to present individually selected promotion and prevention goals, which participants had reported previously that they were close to attaining ("match") or far from attaining ("mismatch"). Across the four priming conditions, significant activations were observed in bilateral insula (Brodmann area (BA) 13) and visual association cortex (BA 18/19). Promotion priming discriminantly engaged left prefrontal cortex (BA 9), whereas prevention priming discriminantly engaged right prefrontal cortex (BA 8/9). Activation in response to promotion goal priming was also correlated with an individual difference measure of perceived success in promotion goal attainment. Our findings extend the construct validity of RFT by showing that the two systems postulated by RFT, under conditions of both attainment and nonattainment, have shared and distinct neural correlates that interface logically with established network models of self-regulatory cognition.


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Individual differences, Personal goals, Prevention, Promotion, Regulatory focus, Self-regulation, fMRI


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Detloff, Allison M, Ahmad R Hariri and Timothy J Strauman (2020). Neural signatures of promotion versus prevention goal priming: fMRI evidence for distinct cognitive-motivational systems. Personality neuroscience, 3. p. e1. 10.1017/pen.2019.13 Retrieved from

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Ahmad Hariri

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Integrating psychology, neuroimaging, pharmacology and molecular genetics in the search for biological pathways mediating individual differences in behavior and related risk for psychopathology.


Timothy J. Strauman

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

FOR POTENTIAL STUDENTS (fall 2024 class): 

Dr. Timothy Strauman and Dr. Ann Brewster will be seeking to admit a student for Fall 2024 who will be an important member of their collaborative projects. Dr. Brewster is an intervention scientist and a faculty member in Duke’s Social Science Research Institute. The collaborative projects focus on creating, testing, and implementing school-based therapeutic and preventive interventions for adolescents at risk for negative academic and mental health outcomes. We are partnering with the Durham Public Schools as well as with other local school districts, and Dr. Brewster has extensive experience and expertise in developing the partnerships, working with community members, and the intervention process itself. We are especially interested in applicants with experience in community-based interventions, with interests in adolescence, and with knowledge and experience working with both behavioral and neuroimaging data.

Professor Strauman's research focuses on the psychological and neurobiological processes that enable self-regulation, conceptualized in terms of a cognitive/motivational perspective, as well as the relation between self-regulation and affect. Particular areas of emphasis include: (1) conceptualizing self-regulation in terms of brain/behavior motivational systems; (2) the role of self-regulatory cognitive processes in vulnerability to depression and other disorders; (3) the impact of treatments for depression, such as psychotherapy and medication, on self-regulatory function and dysfunction in depression; (4) how normative and non-normative socialization patterns influence the development of self-regulatory systems; (5) the contributory roles of self-regulation, affect, and psychopathology in determining immunologically-mediated susceptibility to illness; (6) development of novel multi-component treatments for depression targeting self-regulatory dysfunction; (7) utilization of brain imaging techniques to test hypotheses concerning self-regulation, including the nature and function of hypothetical regulatory systems and characterizing the breakdowns in self-regulation that lead to and accompany depression.

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