Choosing To Be Afraid: Preferences for Fear as a Function of Goal Pursuit

Maya Tamir*, Brett Q. Ford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


According to an instrumental approach to emotion regulation (M. Tamir, in press), people may not always prefer to feel pleasant emotions and avoid unpleasant ones. Instead, they may be motivated to experience even unpleasant emotions when they might be useful for goal attainment. Given that fear serves to promote successful avoidance, these studies tested this hypothesis by examining preferences for fear in preparation for avoidance goal pursuits. Consistent with the predictions of the instrumental approach, participants preferred to increase their level of fear as they prepared to pursue an avoidance goal. Such preferences were higher than preferences for either excitement or anger and were unique to avoidance (vs. approach or confrontational) goal pursuits. Given the aversive nature of fear, these findings clearly demonstrate that people may sometimes prefer to feel bad if doing so can lead to instrumental benefits.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)488-497
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • avoidance
  • emotion regulation
  • emotions
  • fear
  • self-regulation


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