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Inge Wolsink

Attention! An affective approach to anticipated action, Cognitive, affective, and motivational processes underlying proactive behavior


Proactivity is popular: on vacancy websites, ‘proactive’ generates more hits than any other competency. Proactive individuals do not wait for instructions. They actively try to anticipate future problems and opportunities and initiate improvement in themselves and their environment. Despite proactivity’s popularity in organizations and science however, we know relatively little about what makes people proactive because experimental research is non-existent.
In order to find out which psychological processes are involved in proactive behavior, I conducted a series of experiments. Three chapters each focus on one psychological process: 1) cognition – how much conscious attention do people need to be proactive? 2) affect – how do feelings influence proactivity? 3) motivation – what drives people to become proactive?
My research shows that proactive behavior is caused by an interaction of personality and situational circumstances. First, individuals who are proactive by nature, require less conscious attention to execute high quality proactivity than individuals who are naturally less proactive. Second, passive-reactive individuals are more likely to show proactive behavior when they experience negative feelings, whereas people with a proactive personality do not need such affective activation. Third, for some individuals, a need to seek out new experiences intrinsically motivates proactivity, whereas for others, rewards such as status and money can motivate proactivity more extrinsically.
These outcomes point out novel perspectives on proactivity’s antecedents as proactivity was previously assumed to require a lot of (as opposed to little) conscious attention, positive (as opposed to negative) affect, and intrinsic (as opposed to extrinsic) motivation.