Hand Movement Trajectories Illustrate the Mechanism Underlying Kurt Lewin’s Distinction Between Approach–Approach and Avoidance–Avoidance Motivational Conflicts

Maya Enisman*, Ariel Levy, Tali Kleiman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Classic motivational conflicts theory (Lewin, 1931) distinguishes between approach–approach, and avoidance–avoidance conflicts. Previous research has focused solely on testing the theory’s prediction that avoidance–avoidance conflicts are more difficult to resolve than approach–approach ones, using outcome measures (decision time and self-reports). The theory, however, specifies a force-fields mechanism to account for this difference in conflict resolution difficulty, whereby avoidance–avoidance conflicts (compared to approach–approach ones) elicit more (a) oscillations and (b) return to the middle point between options. However, this force-fields mechanism has never been empirically tested, arguably due to a lack of the tools to do so. In five studies (N = 534 U.K. residents), we use mouse-tracking measures to provide insight into the force-fields mechanism. We show that the force-fields’ mechanistic properties— oscillations and returns to the middle point—distinguish the two types of conflict and uniquely account for conflict resolution difficulty beyond standard conflict-strength measures. Moreover, we test a novel, theorydriven prediction and robustly show a differential pattern of increased oscillations as a function of the decision-maker’s proximity to the decision options. Finally, we test a boundary condition moderating the influence of conflict type on both the force-fields’ mechanistic properties and conflict resolution difficulty.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 American Psychological Association

Keywords

  • approach
  • avoidance
  • conflict
  • motivation
  • mouse-tracking

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