Moving on or Digging Deeper: Regulatory Mode and Interpersonal Conflict Resolution

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Conflict resolution, in its most basic sense, requires movement and change between opposing motivational states. Although scholars and practitioners have long acknowledged this point, research has yet to investigate whether individual differences in the motivation for movement from state-to-state influence conflict resolution processes. Regulatory Mode Theory (RMT) describes this fundamental motivation as locomotion. RMT simultaneously describes an orthogonal motivational emphasis on assessment, a tendency for critical evaluation and comparison. We argue that this tendency, in the absence of a stronger motivation for locomotion, can obstruct peoples’ propensity to reconcile. Five studies, using diverse measures and methods, found that the predominance of an individual’s locomotion over assessment facilitates interpersonal conflict resolution. The first two studies present participants with hypothetical conflict scenarios to examine how chronic (Study 1) and experimentally induced (Study 2) individual differences in locomotion predominance influence the motivation to reconcile. The next two studies investigate this relation by way of participants’ own conflict experiences, both through essay recall of previous conflict events (Study 3) and verbal narratives of ongoing conflict issues (Study 4). We then explore this association in the context of real-world conflict discussions between roommates (Study 5). Lastly, we examine results across these studies meta-analytically (Study 6). Overall, locomotion and assessment can inform lay theories of individual variation in the motivation to “move on” or “dig deeper” in conflict situations. We conclude by emphasizing the importance of using RMT to go beyond instrumental approaches to conflict resolution to understand fundamental individual motivations underlying its occurrence.

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