The comfort of approach: Self-soothing effects of behavioral approach in response to meaning violations

Willem W. A. Sleegers, Travis Proulx

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
180 Downloads (Pure)


People maintain systems of beliefs that provide them with a sense of belongingness, control, identity, and meaning, more generally. Recent research shows that when these beliefs are threatened a syndrome of negatively valenced arousal is evoked thatmotivates people to seek comfort in their ideologies or other personally valued beliefs. In this paper wewill provide an overviewof this process and discuss areas for future research. Beginning with the neural foundations ofmeaning violations,we reviewfindings that showthe anterior cingulate cortex is responsible for detecting inconsistencies, and importantly, that this is experienced as aversive. Next,we evaluate the evidential support for a psychophysiological arousal response as measured by cardiography and skin conductance.We discuss how current theorizing proposes that subsequent behavioral approach ameliorates the negative arousal and serves as an effective, well-adapted coping response, but we also aim to further integrate this process in the existing threat-compensation literature. Finally, we speculate on whether approach motivation is likely to result when one feels capable of handling the threat, thereby incorporating the biopsychosocial model that distinguishes between challenge and threat into the motivational threat-response literature.We believe the current literature on threat andmeaning hasmuch to offer and we aimto provide new incentives for further development.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1568
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • meaning violation
  • threat
  • approach motivation
  • avoidance motivation


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