The main conclusion was that it is the compatibility of stimuli to goals and not the compatibility to the actions that affects responding. Specifically, it is assumed that active goals prime specific stimulus features in memory (e.g., left side, money, positive features) because these are part of the goal. When stimulus features that map onto (i.e., are compatible with) these primed stimulus representations are actually encountered and perceived, they facilitate the intended behavior. When perceived stimuli are contradictory (incompatible) with the primed stimulus representations, they may inhibit the intended behavior. Also, when stimulus features that map onto these primed stimulus representations are actually encountered and perceived, they are weighted heavier into a judgment. We reviewed evidence showing that when perceived information is more compatible with a goal, reaction times are faster, attitudinal judgments are more extreme, and choices are more affected by this information.
It was then hypothesized that some positive-negative asymmetries and some framing effects in judgment and choice are the result of goal compatibility. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that valence (positivity vs. negativity) has a compatibility relation to approach-avoidance goals (including prevention and promotion goals). Framing can set approach-avoidance goals, thus leading to differential sensitivity to positive and negative information. The context may also activate either approach or avoidance goals essentially having the same effect as an explicit frame, but looking like a general positive-negative asymmetry because context is usually not varied in an experiment. Thus, goal compatibility might be involved in, the well-known positive-negative asymmetry in impression formation, which shows that positive behaviors are weighted heavier than negative behaviors in the ability domain, whereas this relation reverses in the morality domain (Skowronski & Carlston, 1987). Some initial evidence was reported that the ability versus morality domains are associated with approach versus avoidance standards, respectively, suggesting that positive versus negative information should be more compatible with these standards, respectively.
We also interpreted framing effects on behavior following health-related persuasive messages in terms of goal compatibility. On the basis of unconfounding valence and regulatory focus, we suggested that the advantage of negative frames in detection behaviors and positive frames in prevention behaviors (Rothman & Salovey, 1997) could be due to strategic goals of these behaviors—namely, to bring about the presence of negative features (negative valence) or the absence of negative features (positive valence). When the valence of the goal and frame match rather then mismatch persuasion is facilitated.
A number of the studies reported earlier were originally motivated by assumptions that negative information or negative frames have a larger impact on judgment and behavior than positive information (or sometimes vice versa). However, across a variety of domains and tasks, the evidence suggests that, even if processes exist that generally weight either positive or negative information heavier, such processes cannot predict behavior independent of considering how compatible the information or frame is to a goal. Thus, if we want to predict positivity or negativity effects, it is necessary to consider goal compatibility because its effects are powerful enough to override effects of other processes that might be involved. Goal compatibility is an important moderating factor—one that cannot be ignored because, in judgment and choice, either approach or avoidance goals are always present and positive or negative information is also always present. Thus, goal compatibility effects involving valence should be the rule rather than the exception.
This work was supported by a Transcoop award (with Arthur Markman) from the German American Academic Council as well as by grant DFG BR1722/1–2 from the German Science Foundation. I would like thank Maya Bar-Hillel, Tory Higgins, Daniel Kahneman, and David Krantz for helpful comments on the unpublished research reported in this chapter.