Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Shawn Ell

Second Committee Member

Thane Fremouw

Third Committee Member

Shannon McCoy


According to Higgins (1997), there are two broad motivational orientations: promotion and prevention. A promotion focus emphasizes potential gains in the environment, while a prevention focus emphasizes potential losses in the environment. These motivational states interact with the reward structure of the environment (i.e., gaining or losing points), influencing how one will respond when trying to solve a categorization task, such as putting stimuli on the basis of color, shape, or number into categories A or B. For example, an experimenter can manipulate the motivational orientation by inducing a promotion focus (i.e., try to earn a lottery ticket into a cash drawing) or a prevention focus (i.e., try to avoid losing this lottery ticket). When the motivational orientation matches with the reward structure of the environment, this creates what is called a regulatory fit (i.e., one is earning points in a promotion focus; Grimm et al., 2008).

When this motivation orientation does not match the reward structure of the environment (i.e., one is earning points in a prevention focus), this is called a regulatory mismatch. In a series of two experiments, we looked to see if manipulating this match between regulatory focus and reward structure of the environment affected categorization performance on a computer task.

Overall, we predicted that a regulatory match would facilitate categorization performance, while a regulatory mismatch would hamper categorization performance, consistent with previous research. This benefit is thought to occur because of increased cognitive flexibility, or a greater likelihood of exploring other task strategies.

Since regulatory fit effects have already been found among young controls (college students), we were particularly interested if this effect interacted with age. That is, we predicted that older controls would perform worse than young controls on this task because the reward processing areas in the brain decrease with age, limiting cognitive flexibility. We also included patients with Parkinson's Disease because the reward processing centers in the brain are known to be dysfunctional. Thus, we hypothesized that the motivational manipulation would not affect patients as much as age-matched older controls.

We tested these hypotheses in a series of two experiments. While the first experiment largely supported our predictions, the results from the second experiment were unexpected. Possible explanations are discussed at the end of the thesis. In conclusion, this thesis largely supports the idea that motivation affects cognition.