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.