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Where do desires come from? Positivity offset and negativity bias predict implicit attitude toward temptations


Temptations elicit both appetitive and aversive responses because they offer hedonic gratification on the one hand and impede long-term goal pursuit on the other hand (Fujita, Personality and Social Psychology Review 15(4):352–366, 2011). In this paper, we investigate how people’s affective responses toward temptations are regulated by the appetitive and aversive motivational systems. We employ the mini Motivated Action Measure (miniMAM; Lang et al., Communication Methods and Measures 5(2):146–162, 2011) to measure the signature patterns with which the two systems regulate affective activation: positivity offset and negativity bias. We found that positivity offset and negativity bias predict unique variance (5.5%) of dieters’ (N = 312) implicit attitude toward tempting foods, over and above predictors related to behavioral regulation (BIS/BAS: Carver, White, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67:319–333, 1994; BSC: Tangney et al., Journal of Personality 72(2):271–324, 2004). By contrast, positivity offset and negativity bias did not predict dieters’ behavioral intentions for tempting foods. Investigating how the appetitive and aversive systems regulate affective activation apart from behavioral responses offers unique insights into people’s desires towards temptations.

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Fig. 1

(adapted from Lang et al. 2005). Positivity offset is represented by a higher activation strength of the appetitive system over aversive system at intercept (low arousal). Negativity bias is represented by the steeper slope with which the aversive system rises in activation than the appetitive system as arousal increases


  1. 1.

    G*Power software (Faul et al. 2009) was employed to investigate the kind of power our study has in detecting the effects of ASA and DSA. The sensitivity analysis suggests that our study has 80% power to detect an effect size of f 2 = 0.032. The post hoc power analysis indicated an observed power of 0.974 (effect size, f 2 = 0.058). Hence, the study has high power to detect small to medium effect sizes (Cohen 1988).

  2. 2.

    While a median-split approach have been used in the past to separate participants into groups with high/low combinations of ASA/DSA (Lang et al. 2005), the current results were analyzed and discussed in a regression approach. As we are focusing on the unique contribution of ASA and DSA in predicting participants’ response to temptations, maintaining them as continuous predictors should have more validity (Irwin and McClelland 2003).

  3. 3.

    Replacing BAS with its three subscales (drive, fun-seeking and reward responsiveness) yielded the same pattern of results. Only ASA (p < .001) and DSA (p = .004) predicted participants’ implicit attitudes, and BSC (p = .006) predicted participants’ behavioral intent. All other predictors were non-significant, ps > 0.185.


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This research is partly supported by Grant R-581-000-165-133 from National University of Singapore, awarded to the second author.

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Correspondence to Lile Jia.

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Koh, A.H.Q., Jia, L. & Hirt, E.R. Where do desires come from? Positivity offset and negativity bias predict implicit attitude toward temptations. Motiv Emot 41, 431–442 (2017).

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  • Temptation
  • Motivational systems
  • Appetitive and aversive responses
  • Implicit attitude
  • Desire