A Computerized Measure of Regulatory Strength: Relations to Self-Discrepancies and Depressive Sympto...
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A Computerized Measure of Regulatory Strength: Relations to Self-Discrepancies and Depressive Symptoms Erin N. Stevens, Nicole J. Holmberg, Christine R. Keeports , M. C. Lovejoy, & Laura D. Pittman Northern Illinois University. Introduction :. Res ults:.

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A Computerized Measure of Regulatory Strength: Relations to Self-Discrepancies and Depressive SymptomsErin N. Stevens, Nicole J. Holmberg, Christine R. Keeports, M. C. Lovejoy, & Laura D. Pittman Northern Illinois University



  • Means, standard deviations, and bivariate correlations for variables of interest were calculated (see Table 1).

  • A regression analysis was conducted to examine ideal-self goal strength as a moderator of the relationship between self-discrepancies and depression (see Table 2). For the analysis, baseline (control) RTs, and actual:ought self-discrepancy, anxiety symptoms, and ought-self goal strength were entered as covariates.

  • Self-discrepancy theory (SDT; Higgins, 1987) is a framework for understanding how incompatible beliefs about the self induce different types of negative affect.

    • Discrepancies between the actual-self perception and ideal-self goals are associated with depressive symptoms.

  • Regulatory strength refers to how cognitively accessible self-identified goals are for each individual.

    • Stronger goals (those that are more accessible) are hypothesized to relate to more intense emotional responses following self-discrepancies.

    • Support from (1) self-reported regulatory strength, and (2) response latency measures of regulatory strength (e.g., Higgins et al., 1997).

      • Response latency measures do not account for potential confounding factors (e.g., typing/motor speed, processing speed, impulsive responding).

  • The purpose of this study was to further examine how regulatory strength moderates the association between actual:ideal discrepancies and depression.

    • Extending upon previous work using self-report measures, we utilized a computerized lexical decision task to measure regulatory strength.

    • Used a lexical decision task similar to that of Shah, Brazy, & Higgins’ (2004) task, which to our knowledge, has never been used to examine regulatory strength as it relates to self-discrepancies and their respective negative emotional outcomes.

  • Hypothesis

    • The relationship between actual:ideal discrepancies and depressive symptoms would be moderated by the accessibility (i.e., strength) of ideal-self goals, even after accounting for processing speed, actual:ought discrepancies, and anxiety symptoms.

  • Simple slopes tests:

    • For individuals with relatively stronger ideal-self goals (i.e., faster RTs), there was a significant positive association between actual:ideal discrepancies and depressive symptoms (β = .33, p <.01).

    • For individuals with relatively weaker ideal-self goals (i.e., slower RTs), there was not a significant association between actual:ideal discrepancies and depressive symptoms (β = .02, p =.87).



  • The lexical decision task seems to be a good proxy for regulatory strength.

  • Findings underscore the importance of considering the role of individual difference factors (e.g., goal-strength) when examining the association between actual:ideal discrepancies and depressive symptoms.

    • The mean RTs for ideal-self goals were significantly less than the mean RTs for the control words; indicates that participants had faster response times to their ideographic ideal-self goals compared to control words.

    • Individuals’ self-identified goals – particularly those associated with the ideal-self – are more chronically activated, as they were more quickly able to identify whether their goals were words compared to other word strings.

  • Results demonstrated a significant interaction between actual:ideal discrepancies and ideal-self goal strength, such that discrepancies were positively related to depressive symptoms, though only for individuals with a stronger regulatory focus (i.e., faster RTs for ideal-self goals) as measured by the lexical decision task.

    • Bolstering previous research that suggests goal strength is a moderator of the discrepancy-depression relationship (Higgins et al., 1997).

    • Findings hold even after controlling for general reaction times and processing speed (as well as anxiety and ought-self constructs).

  • Clinical Implications:

    • Individuals’ goals and their strategies for pursuing these goals (e.g., self-system therapy for depression; Vieth et al., 2003) may be a particularly important clinical intervention target for a subset of individuals who present with mood disorders (e.g., Strauman et al., 2006).

    • Participants included undergraduate college students (N = 162)

    • Age range = 18-31 years (M = 19.7 years, SD = 2.06; 52% female)

      • Ethnicity: 59% White, 20% Black/African American, 12% Hispanic/Latino(a), 6% Asian American, 2% Biracial, 3% other/unspecified

    • Measures

      • Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms: Beck Depression Inventory, Second Edition (BDI-II; Beck et al., 1996; α = .88); Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI; Beck et al., 1988; α = .91).

        • Self-Discrepancies:Discrepancies between actual and ideal selves were measured using an adaptation of the Selves Questionnaire (Higgins, 1987; Stevens et al., 2013). Participants generated five ‘ideal’ (or ‘ought’) attributes and rated the degree to which they ideally would like to possess each attribute (ideal- or ought-self), and then were provided with a list of the attributes they had previously reported and asked to rate the degree to which they currently possessed each attribute (actual-self). In order to calculated self-discrepancies, the score for each actual attribute was subtracted from the corresponding ideal- or ought-self attribute.

        • Goal Strength: Reaction times (RTs) were calculated for the length of time (in ms) that it took the participants to identify whether a string of letters was a word or non-word; RTs were calculated separately for the (1) control words, (2) ought-self goals, and (3) ideal-self goals, with faster RTs being a proxy for more accessible goals.

    Correspondence concerning this poster should be directed to: Erin N. Stevens, M.A., Department of Psychology, Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, IL 60115, [email protected]