The Shield of Defense or the Sword of Prosecution?
How Self-Regulatory Focus Relates to Responses to Crime


Barbara O'Brien, 455 Law College Building, East Lansing, MI 48824. E-mail:


People can strive to attain goals in one of two ways: They can be tolerant of risk and focus on attaining successes, or they can be intolerant of risk and focus on avoiding pitfalls and failures. These differences, termed promotion focus and prevention focus, respectively, have been related to differences in how personal goals are understood, but not yet applied to policy issues. Two studies examine the implications of chronic (Study 1) and experimentally induced (Study 2) promotion vs. prevention goals for a law-and-order mind set. Participants high in promotion focus assigned more punishment to a criminal (Study 1). Compared to prevention-focused participants, experimentally induced promotion focus increased the likelihood of arresting a suspect and justifying this choice (Study 2).