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Individual Differences in Approach and Avoidance Movements: How the Avoidance Motive Influences Response Force


  • We thank Dirk Wentura and Klaus Rothermund for the stimulus material, Wolfgang Kern for technical support, and Annette Schüßler and Jana Görndt for their assistance in testing. The research reported in this article was supported by a grant of the German Research Foundation to the first two authors (PU 156/3-1).

concerning this article should be addressed to Rosa Maria Puca, General and Applied Psychology, University of Tübingen, Friedrichstrasse 21, 72072 Tübingen, Germany, e-mail:, or Gerhard Rinkenauer, Institute for Occupational Physiology, University of Dortmund, Ardeystrasse 67, 44139 Dortmund, Germany. E-mail:


ABSTRACT The present research is based on the assumption that people differ in their responsiveness to incentives and threats. In two experiments we examined whether the trait corresponding to the responsiveness to threats (avoidance motive) and the trait corresponding to the responsiveness to incentives (approach motive) influence voluntary motor behavior toward or away from stimuli. In Experiment 1, stimuli consisted of positive and negative words within a lexical decision task. Participants moved their arms backward in order to withdraw from the stimuli or forward in order to approach them. In Experiment 2, participants responded with forward or backward arm movements to neutral sounds coming from behind or in front of them.

The main dependent variable was the strength of the approach and avoidance movements. In both experiments this variable was related to participants' avoidance-motive disposition but not to their approach-motive disposition. Avoidance-motivated individuals generally showed more forceful avoidance movements than approach movements. There was no effect of stimulus valence on the strength of the movements in Experiment 1. Furthermore, the results of Experiment 2 suggest that it is not the physical direction (forward or backward) but rather the movement's effect of distance reduction (approach) or distance increase (avoidance) in regard to the stimulus that defines a movement as an approach or an avoidance movement.