Go to main navigation Navigation menu Skip navigation Home page Search

Conley, Mark Alexander

My work across contexts demonstrates how motivational language impacts key outcomes for organizations and entrepreneurs. Goal orientations (promotion and prevention) and states of goal pursuit (locomotion and assessment) explain some outcomes in entrepreneurship and innovation. To measure motivations, I build linguistic measurement tools suitable for extracting variables from conversations, correspondence, webpages, legal documents, blogs, and other archives.

Typically, I first measure psychological and motivational variables via a field observational study or archival reference. Then I proceed onto pre-registered experiments and replications to pin down causality and identify potential mediators.

My work has been published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Social Science Research, Academy of Management Journal, Science Advances, and Harvard Business Review.

Recent Work: 

The Motivation of Mission Statements: How Regulatory Mode Influences Workplace Discrimination

We (Kanze, Conley & Higgins)  investigated whether the way in which an organization pursues its goals can influence ethical violations, such as employment discrimination. We tested this hypothesis among US franchises, which employ a considerable amount of low-income workers. We performed a linguistic analysis of franchise mission statements to determine how they pursue goals. Discriminatory behavior is associated with franchises whose mission statements motivate employees to embrace urgent action (locomotion mode) over thoughtful consideration (assessment mode). Two experiments reinforced the causal role of locomotion and the absence of assessment in workplace discrimination. Also see a practical description of this research in HBR: https://hbr.org/2020/02/research-organizations-that-move-fast-really-do-break-things. Preregistration, raw data, and code for those experiments are posted on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/9tzdr/

We Ask Men to Win and Women Not To Lose (Kanze, Huang, Conley & Higgins 2018 - "Best Article" Winner in Academy of Management Journal; also Kanze, Huang, Conley & Higgins, 2017 in HBR)

My colleagues and I (Kanze, Huang, Conley & Higgins) showed how entrepreneurs seeking investors must communicate in the lexicon of a gain-framed goal orientation, signalling no concerns for potential losses, in order to best raise venture capital funding. Although this method of communication may seem deceitful or indirect, it is absolutely appropriate in low-information high-uncertainty meetings, where investors rely on heuristics to guide their decisions.  We tested this hypothesis about gain frames using an archival study of a strategic and high-stakes setting: venture capital pitch competitions.   At these events, competitors pitch their startups using only the motivational lexicon associated with approaching gains and avoiding non-gains. Afterwards, potential investors ask men questions reflecting that orientation towards potential gains, but they ask women questions oriented towards potential losses. These question and answer exchanges are predictive of funding outcomes, even when controlling for other established funding variables. Following this observational study with an experiment using laymen and another using real angel investors, our research identifies an actionable verbal remedy that entrepreneurs can use during these crucial interactions.

Value from Fit with Distinct Motivational Field Environments (in Basic and Applied Social Psychology; Conley & Higgins, 2018)

For almost forty years gun ownership and the motivational underpinnings of why guns are valued has received little attention in psychology. Using motivation science theories that explain value creation (regulatory focus and regulatory fit), we tested for fit between fundamental motivations and gun ownership. Our field experiments at American gun shows demonstrate a motivational fit, congruency between gun ownership and the motivation to avoid, prevent, and maintain vigilance. By verbally manipulating regulatory focus, we isolated how guns are valued more by prevention motivations than by promotion. We speculate that prevention similarly motivates gun rights advocacy. Our research is agnostic regarding the legal and moral components of the gun rights debate. Instead, we examine the malleability of gun value as a function of regulatory focus and regulatory fit, and also provide evidence for fit effects with distinct motivational environments. Raw data and code are posted on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/u6ykj/