Doing the Time Warp: Self-Regulation and Time Orientation



Some goals entail a fixed point in time for their attainment. So far, research has not investigated the interplay of such individual or group deadlines and self-regulation strategies. This is surprising as based on Goal Systems Theory one can assume that goals act as landmarks in time orientation, and furthermore, as based on Regulatory Focus Theory one can assume that certain self-regulatory strategies (prevention focus) should be more prone to an orientation along deadlines as they involve losses (e.g., of time to attain goals). In a field study we show the practical relevance of the landmark effect. In two initial studies we tested and could show that goals are used as landmarks in time. Individual goals uses as primes in a lexical decision task lead to a facilitation of the day of goal attainment, but not for the other days of the week. For group goals this effect was moderated by identification, for individual goals by social comparison orientation. In two further studies we tested the assumed fit of prevention focus with deadlines. Indeed prevention focus led to describing behavior fitting deadlines in terms of loss characteristics. The results also indicated a fit of promotion focus with deadlines, albeit concerning the description of the deadline itself. The latter effect was replicated for individual goals. For group goals prevention focus led to a description of the deadline in terms of prevention, which may be due to loss of perceived outcome-control at the group level. Overall our results indicate that our time orientation is by no means a stable clock ticking, but shaped by our goals and that depending on group and individual goals and regulatory focus, deadlines are seen and dealt with differently.
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Dicea Jansen