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Attraction vs. Avoidance Preferences


Explanations > Preferences > Attraction vs. Avoidance Preferences

Attraction | Avoidance | Discussion | So what?


Some people are motivated more by doing things, whilst others are motivated more by avoiding things.


People who are driven towards doing things tend to have positive goals and seek to achieve specific things. They are forward-looking and see the world as being full of opportunity. They generally have a passion and desire to succeed in order to gain either specific rewards or general recognition. To achieve this, they are more open and ready to explore new experiences. Their focus is largely on the future and when they have achieved something they may even forget about it in the headlong charge into further challenges.

Some people have problems with this in that they are attracted to too many things. They dart from one opportunity to another, seeking gratification all over the place. They may be looking for something and they may not yet know what they want.

Attraction is associated with dopamine systems in the brain, which encourages us to explore and seek rewarding stimuli. It is linked with higher, positive arousal where more risks may be taken. To be creative, you need this kind of exploratory approach.


Those who are driven to avoid things something look like they are attracted to the things they are actually doing, but they are actually looking more over their shoulder than in front of them. For example people who are very energetic at work may be driven more by a worry about failure or criticism than by an attraction towards achievement.

Those who are avoidance-driven focus more by their fears than their desires (which may well be fears in disguise). They may also be more prone to disgust. They may well also be more closed to the world, avoiding problems simply by keeping the doors to their world closed.

Avoidance can be a high-stress preference. We may be generally driven by attraction when things are going well, but when we are threatened or otherwise experience high levels of stress, we may use an avoidance strategy to get away from that discomfort.

A problem with avoidance when compared to attraction is that there are many directions in which to run away from something, yet only one way you can run towards something. Motivating a person by triggering avoidance is not necessarily a helpful approach.

Avoidance is associated with seratonin systems in the brain which deal with threat. This leads to reduced flexibility, lower mood and less focus.


Attraction and avoidance are related to the fight-or-flight response, where attraction and fighting lead to moving towards a target, while avoidance and flight are about moving away from it. The major difference is that fight and flight are immediate and unthinking reactions to threat. Attraction and avoidance often have cognitive elements and may well be both slower and more persistent over time.

In a similar way, attraction and avoidance are related to pleasure and pain. In particular, we are attracted to pleasurable activities and avoid painful experiences. And we each tend towards pleasure and pain in different degrees, ranging from the ultimate attraction of hedonism to the abject fear of the avoidant personality. This can be affected by early experiences, particularly when pain and fear make us more avoidant, dragging us away from simple childhood pleasures.

So what?

For those who are driven by attraction, seek their passions and lay opportunity in their path. They will swoop towards what you are offering.

For those driven by avoidance, point out the problems of the past and the dangers of the present. Show them a future where they can at least avoid the worst of the problems they face.

When you have a choice, be a shepherd. A sheep runs in any direction to get away from a sheepdog, making it work extra hard, whilst it runs towards the shepherd who stands in one place and calls them.

See also

Pleasure-pain principle, Motivation, Desire, Fear, Fight-or-Flight reaction, Utilitarianism


Horney, Karen (1945). Our Inner Conflicts, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Horney, Karen (1950). Neurosis and human growth. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.


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