Positive and negative emotional
attractors and intentional change
Department of Organizational Behavior, Weatherhead School of Management,
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the process by which individual change occurs.
Design/methodology/approach – This conceptual paper presents the intentional change theory
(ICT) perspective on the role of positive and negative emotion in individual level intentional change.
Existing emotion research is reviewed to provide a framework for discussion.
Findings – ICT offers a new understanding on the role of positive and negative emotion in the
process of intentional change. The positive emotional attractor (PEA) triggers constructive cognitive
and physiological responses that enhance an individual’s motivation, effort, optimism, ﬂexibility,
creative thinking, resilience and other adaptive behaviors. The negative emotional attractor (NEA)
triggers another process by calling attention to current social and environmental stressors that may
compromise an individual’s effectiveness. While both emotional attractors play an important role in
intentional change, it is critically important to leverage the beneﬁcial effects of PEA arousal.
Practical implications – Through thorough understanding of the PEA and NEA coaching and
other ways of helping adults change can be enhanced. ICT is currently used worldwide in MBA
classrooms, executive education programs and executive coaching contexts. Research on the impact of
positive and negative emotion in intentional change can enhance these practice applications.
Originality/value – To date, no one has conceptualized the PEA and NEA in this manner. This
proposes an enhancement of the previously developed notions of the value of positive emotion and
Keywords Individual behaviour, Behaviour modiﬁcation, Change management
Paper type Conceptual paper
Emotions play a central role in intentional change. They excite our interest, focus our
attention, alert us to the need for change and move us to act. Emotions also inﬂuence
how we cope with challenge and threat, set new goals, learn new behavior and draw on
others for help or support. In this article I address the impact of emotion on the process
of intentional change. Consistent with intentional change theory (ICT) (Boyatzis, 2004a,
2001b), I propose that positive and negative emotion shape the change process through
the pull of two emotional attractors, the positive emotional attractor and the negative
emotional attractor (Boyatzis, 2004). ICT deﬁnes the positive emotional attractor (PEA)
as the personal hopes, dreams, possibilities, strengths, optimism and self-directed
learning goals that make up our Ideal Self (Boyatzis, 2004), i.e. our conception of what
we most aspire to be and become (Brockner and Higgins, 2001; Waugh, 2001; Higgins
et al., 1994). The negative emotional attractor (NEA) is deﬁned as the present reality,
fears, problems, shortfalls, pessimism and improvement goals that constitute our real
self (Boyatzis, 2004), i.e. our conception of what we actually are in everyday life
(Brockner and Higgins, 2001; Waugh, 2001; Higgins et al., 1994; Ogilvie, 1987).
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Journal of Management Development
Vol. 25 No. 7, 2006
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited