The Right Side? Under Time Pressure, Approach Motivation Leads to Right-Oriented Bias


Approach motivation, a focus on achieving positive outcomes, is related to relative left-hemispheric brain activation, which translates to a variety of right-oriented behavioral biases. In two studies, we found that approach-motivated individuals display a right-oriented bias, but only when they are forced to act quickly. In a task in which they had to divide lines into two equal parts, approach-motivated individuals bisected the line at a point farther to the right than avoidance-motivated individuals did, but only when they worked under high time pressure. In our analysis of all Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup penalty shoot-outs, we found that goalkeepers were two times more likely to dive to the right than to the left when their team was behind, a situation that we conjecture induces approach motivation. Because penalty takers shot toward the two sides of the goal equally often, the goalkeepers' right-oriented bias was dysfunctional, allowing more goals to be scored. Directional biases may facilitate group coordination but prove maladaptive in individual settings and interpersonal competition.

Psychological Science