Shared Reality

Shared reality—the perceived commonality of inner states with others—is basic to human nature. In our lab, we study how people form shared realities with others, and how the successful creation of shared reality influences their relationships and perceptions of the world around them. Work on shared reality has revealed that when communicating, people ‘socially tune’ their message to each other, and this process shapes not only what they say but also subsequently what they remember. Therefore, creating shared realities fundamentally shifts the way people cognitively represent the world. More recent work in our lab has found that shared reality also influences people’s relationships with others: it draws strangers to each other initially, and also blurs the boundaries between self and other between familiar partners.

We are also excited to share that we hosted the first Shared Reality & Authenticity Preconference at SPSP 2019, and this pre-conference will take place again at SPSP 2020!

Representative Shared Reality Publications:

  • Hardin, C. D., & Higgins, E. T. (1996). Shared reality: How social verification makes the subjective objective. In Sorrentino, R. M., & Higgins, E. T. (Eds.), In Handbook of motivation and cognition: The interpersonal context (Vol. 3, pp. 28-84). New York, NY: Guilford Press.   
  • Echterhoff, G., Higgins, E. T., & Groll, S. (2005). Audience-tuning effects on memory: The role of shared reality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(3), 257-276.
  • Echterhoff, G., Higgins, E. T., Kopietz, R., & Groll, S. (2008). How communication goals determine when audience tuning biases memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 137(1), 3-21.
  • Echterhoff, G., Kopietz, R., & Higgins, E. T. (2013). Adjusting shared reality: Communicators’ memory changes as their connection with their audience changes. Social Cognition, 31(2), 162-186.
  • Rossignac-Milon, M., & Higgins, E. T. (2018). Epistemic companions: Shared reality development in close relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 23, 66-71.

Regulatory Mode

Developed in collaboration with Arie Kruglanski and Antonio Pierro, regulatory mode theory distinguishes between two fundamental components of effective self-regulation:


  • The aspect of self-regulation involved in making comparisons and evaluations, such as:
    • Comparing goals or means
    • Comparing oneself against some standard
  • Fundamentally related to truth motivation (i.e., understanding what’s real)


  • The aspect of self-regulation involved in moving from state to state, such as:
    • Initiating movement away from some current state
    • Sustaining smooth movement in goal pursuit
  • Fundamentally related to control motivation (i.e., managing what happens)

While both aspects are critical for effective self-regulation, regulatory mode theory argues that locomotion and assessment are functionally independent, such that individuals can differ both chronically and temporarily in their emphasis on one mode over the other. The emphasis on one mode over another has interesting implications for how individuals make decisions, evaluate self and others, respond to obstacles, and generally navigate the social world.

The regulatory mode questionnaire measures chronic locomotion and assessment.

Representative Regulatory Mode Publications:

  • Kruglanski, A. W., Thompson, E. P., Higgins, E. T., Atash, N. M., Pierro, A., Shah, J. Y., & Spiegel, S. (2000). To "do the right thing" or to "just do it": Locomotion and assessment as distinct self-regulatory imperatives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), 793-815.
  • Higgins, E. T., Kruglanski, A. W., & Pierro, A. (2003). Regulatory mode: Locomotion and assessment as distinct orientations. In Zanna, M. P. (Ed.), In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 35, pp. 293-344). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Kruglanski, A. W., Pierro, A., Mannetti, L., & Higgins, E. T. (2013). The distinct psychologies of “looking” and “leaping”: Assessment and locomotion as the springs of action. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(2), 79-92.
  • Webb, C. E., Coleman, P. T., Rossignac-Milon, M., Tomasulo, S. J., & Higgins, E. T. (2017). Moving on or digging deeper: Regulatory mode and interpersonal conflict resolution. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112(4), 621-641.
  • Zee, K. S., Cavallo, J. V., Flores, A. J., Bolger, N., & Higgins, E. T. (2018). Motivation moderates the effects of social support visibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(5), 735-765.

Regulatory Focus

Regulatory focus theory posits two separate and independent self-regulatory orientations, both fundamentally related to value motivation (i.e., achieving desired end-states):


  • Emphasizes safety, responsibility, and security
  • Views goals as oughts
  • Strategic concern with losses:
    • Approaching non-losses (absence of negatives)
    • Avoiding losses (presence of negatives)
  • Prefers a vigilant goal-pursuit strategy
  • Sensitive to the difference between “-1” and “0” (maintenance)


  • Emphasizes hopes, accomplishments, and advancement
  • Views goals as ideals
  • Strategic concern with gains:
    • Approaching gains (presence of positives)
    • Avoiding non-gains (absence of positives)
  • Prefers an eager goal-pursuit strategy
  • Sensitive to the difference between “0” and “+1” (attainment)

Regulatory focus is a state that can differ across individuals (chronic regulatory focus) and situations (momentary regulatory focus). The regulatory focus strength measure and regulatory focus questionnaire measure chronic regulatory focus. Momentary regulatory focus can be primed or induced using the regulatory focus induction.

Representative Regulatory Focus Publications:

  • Higgins, E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist, 52(12), 1280-1300.
  • Crowe, E., & Higgins, E. T. (1997). Regulatory focus and strategic inclinations: Promotion and prevention in decision-making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 69(2), 117-132.
  • Higgins, E. T., Friedman, R., Harlow, R. E., Idson, L. C., Ayduk, O. N., & Taylor, A. (2001). Achievement orientations from subjective histories of success: Promotion pride versus prevention pride. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31(1), 3-23.
  • Kanze, D., Huang, L., Conley, M. A., & Higgins, E. T. (2018). We ask men to win and women not to lose: Closing the gender gap in startup funding. Academy of Management Journal, 61(2), 586-614.

Regulatory Fit

One’s goal orientation can be either sustained or disrupted by his or her goal pursuit strategy. Regulatory fit theory suggests that a match between one’s orientation to a goal and the means used to pursue that goal produces a state of regulatory fit that:

  • Creates a feeling of rightness about the goal pursuit
  • Increases task engagement
  • Intensifies responses (i.e., positive responses become more positive and negative responses become more negative) such as the value of a chosen object, persuasion, or job satisfaction.

Regulatory fit is a broad theory about the general effects of fit. Although regulatory fit consistently arises from a match between any orientation and its preferred strategy, it has been most commonly investigated using regulatory focus and regulatory mode.

Regulatory fit can be manipulated incidentally (outside the context of interest) or integrally (within the context of interest) using the regulatory fit induction.

Representative Regulatory Fit Publications:

  • Higgins, E. T. (2000). Making a good decision: Value from fit. American Psychologist, 55(11), 1217-1230.
  • Higgins, E. T., Idson, L. C., Freitas, A. L., Spiegel, S., & Molden, D. C. (2003). Transfer of value from fit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(6), 1140-1153.
  • Avnet, T., & Higgins, E. T. (2003). Locomotion, assessment, and regulatory fit: Value transfer from “how” to “what”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39(5), 525-530.
  • Cesario, J., Higgins, E. T., & Scholer, A. A. (2008). Regulatory fit and persuasion: Basic principles and remaining questions. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(1), 444-463.
  • Conley, M. A., & Higgins, E. T. (2018). Value from fit with distinct motivational field environments. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 40(2), 61-72.

Regulatory Engagement

Value is a motivational force of attraction to or repulsion from something, which varies both in terms of:

  • Direction (positive vs. negative)
  • Intensity (weak vs. strong)

While experienced holistically, these two force experiences of direction and intensity are distinct from one another with respect to their sources. In other words, there can be contributions to the experience of value intensity that are independent of value direction.

Regulatory engagement theory proposes that strength of engagement contributes to value intensity independent of value direction (hedonic or otherwise). What is unique about the regulatory engagement model is its consideration of sources of value intensity that are nondirectional. The more strongly an individual engages in an activity (i.e., is fully involved, occupied, or engrossed), the more intense the motivational force experience.

In other words, engagement serves as an intensifier of the directional component of the value experience. Consequently, an individual who is more strongly engaged in goal pursuit will experience a positive target more positively and a negative target more negatively. Sources of engagement strength that we explore in the lab include:

  • Opposing interfering forces
  • Overcoming personal resistance
  • Regulatory fit
  • Use of proper means
  • High experienced expectancy

Representative Regulatory Engagement Publications:

  • Higgins, E. T. (2006). Value from hedonic experience and engagement. Psychological Review, 113(3), 439-460.
  • Scholer, A. A., & Higgins, E. T. (2009). Exploring the complexities of value creation: The role of engagement strength. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19(2), 137-143.
  • Higgins, E. T., Franks, B., Pavarini, D., Sehnert, S., & Manley, K. (2013). Expressed likelihood as motivator: Creating value through engaging what’s real. Journal of Economic Psychology, 38, 4-15.


The concept of accessibility was initially proposed by cognitive psychologists to indicate the degree to which a mental representation is currently active in one’s mind. Generally, if a concept is top-of-mind, its accessibility may affect the degree to which it is used in processing incoming external stimuli.

Building on this work, research in the lab has established that the accessibility of concepts and personal goals plays an important role in determining human social perception, decision-making and behavior. Importantly, motivational factors can affect how these accessible concepts impact behavior.

Our research has also contributed to the differentiation between accessibility and three related concepts:

  • Availability: Having a mental concept
  • Salience: The degree to which a dimension or feature of an external stimulus has the ability to grab one’s attention
  • Applicability: The ‘fit’ between the mentally active concept and the external stimulus

Accessibility can be transient. For example, incidentally hearing someone speaking about aggressiveness may lead to the concept of aggressiveness becoming transiently active (i.e., accessible) in my mind. On encountering another stimulus (say, a salient stimulus such as a person gesturing towards another emphatically), I may interpret her behavior as more aggressive due to that activation.

Accessibility may also be chronic. For example, people who have grown up in an aggressive environment with the concept of aggressiveness frequently activated in their mind are prone to constantly maintain a higher level of accessibility of the concept. Consequently, they may interpret even highly ambiguous novel situations (e.g., those in which the concept is low in applicability) as being about aggressiveness, possibly leading to maladaptive behavior.

Representative Accessibility Publications:

  • Higgins, E. T., Rholes, W. S., & Jones, C. R. (1977). Category accessibility and impression formation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13(2), 141-154.
  • Higgins, E. T. (1996). Knowledge activation: Accessibility, applicability, and salience. In Higgins, E. T., & Kruglanski, A. W. (Eds.), In Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 133-168). New York, NY: Guilford Press.   
  • Förster, J., Liberman, N., & Higgins, E. T. (2005). Accessibility from active and fulfilled goals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41(3), 220-239.
  • Cesario, J., Plaks, J. E., & Higgins, E. T. (2006). Automatic social behavior as motivated preparation to interact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(6), 893-910.
  • Eitam, B., & Higgins, E. T. (2010). Motivation in mental accessibility: Relevance of a representation (ROAR) as a new framework. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4(10), 951-967.
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