My work across contexts demonstrates how motivational language impacts key outcomes for organizations and individuals. Goal orientations (regulatory focus: promotion and prevention) and states of goal pursuit (regulatory mode: locomotion and assessment) explain important outcomes in entrepreneurship and innovation. To measure these motivations, I build linguistic measurement tools that measure motivations in conversations, correspondence, webpages, static documents, and other archives.
Typically, I first measure important psychological and motivational variables via a field observational study or archival reference. Then I typically 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, Academy of Management Journal, and Harvard Business Review.
In Press / Forthcoming
Despite concerted efforts to enforce ethical standards, transgressions continue to plague US corporations. My coauthors I and investigated whether the way in which an organization pursues its goals can influence ethical violations, manifested as involvement in discrimination. We tested this hypothesis among franchises, which employ a considerable amount of low-income workers adversely affected by discrimination. We performed a linguistic analysis of franchise mission statements to determine their degree of locomotion and assessment (regulatory mode) language. EEOC archival data for the past decade reveals that regulatory mode predicts franchise involvement in discrimination. 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.
We Ask Men to Win and Women Not To Lose (Kanze, Huang, Conley & Higgins 2018 in Academy of Management Journal; 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, signaling 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/