Shielding against self-protection: A Goal Inhibition Model of Risk Regulation
Gomillion, Sarah Collie
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People with low self-esteem ("lows") typically self-protect in the face of interpersonal risk, often distancing from their partners and harming their relationships. Two prior experiments showed that self-protecting outside the relationship actually leads lows to respond more constructively to risk within their relationships (Gomillion & Murray, unpublished data). A potential explanation for these findings is that once people have made progress towards fulfilling a goal, the goal becomes inhibited, leading people stop pursuing the inhibited goal and turn their attention to alternative goals. Three studies investigated whether lows' self-protection goals similarly become inhibited after making progress towards fulfilling these goals in a non-relationship context. In addition, I tested a Goal Inhibition Model of Risk Regulation predicting that inhibition of self-protection goals mediates the effect of self-protection goal progress on lows' responses to interpersonal risk. The studies provided mixed support for the proposed model. Consistent with theory, Study 1 showed that the accessibility of lows' connection goals is inhibited in the face of risk. Study 2 showed that after lows have self-protected outside their relationships, their connection goals become more accessible in risky situations. In addition, self-protecting outside the relationship enabled lows to exert inhibitory control over concepts related to self-protection and rejection. However, Study 2 and 3 did not provide evidence that these changes in impulsive and reflective goal inhibition mediated the effects of pursuing self-protection on lows relationship-promotive responses to risk. This project contributes to the scientific understanding of close relationships by revealing how lows' goal pursuits outside their relationship can influence interpersonal goal dynamics within their relationships.