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Access Type

Open Access

Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



approach/avoidance motivation, cognitive rigidity, political orientation


The current research explored how one’s motivational focus and political orientation may interact to produce cognitive rigidity. Past literature provides evidence for associations between approach-based orientation and cognitive flexibility and between avoidance-based motives and cognitive rigidity (e.g., Cacioppo, Priester, & Berntson, 1993; Friedman & Förster, 2005; Förster, Friedman, Özelsel & Denzler, 2006, Isen & Daubman, 1984; Mikulincer, Kedem & Paz, 1990). Further, research on political orientation suggests a strong association between conservatism and cognitive rigidity (Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloway, 2003). Can approach/avoidance motivation help explain this link between political orientation and rigidity? To answer this question, we manipulated approach/avoidance orientation using primes that focused individuals on what they should do versus what they should not do; there was also a no-prime control group. The cognitive rigidity task involved categorizing prototypic and non-prototypic items. For each item, participants provided goodness of fit ratings and discrete category judgment of whether the item was a member of the category (i.e., “yes” or “no”). Cognitive rigidity was operationalized as greater exclusion of non-prototypic items from a category. We found approach/avoidance motivation and political orientation significantly interacted to predict cognitive rigidity. An avoidance prime produced lower goodness of fit ratings and more “no” category membership decisions for political conservatives, but not political liberals. There were no differences across groups for the approach prime. These findings suggest that conservatives’ cognitive rigidity may be attributable to their greater avoidance motivation; conservatives appear to be sensitive to negative outcomes, and when these are cued, cognitive rigidity increases.

First Advisor

Ronnie Janoff-Bulman