Psychological Reactance is an unpleasant motivational arousal (reaction) to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away their choices or limiting the range of alternatives.
Psychological Reactance can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended, and also increases resistance to persuasion. People using reverse psychology are playing on reactance, attempting to influence someone to choose the opposite of what they request.
White, T. B., Zahay, D. L., Thorbjørnsen, H., & Shavitt, S.. (2008). Getting too personal: Reactance to highly personalized email solicitations. Marketing Letters, 19(1), 39–50.
“Research on the effects of personalized messages on consumers’ be- havioral responses has yielded mixed findings. we explore how e-mail personali- zation influences click-through intentions. our results suggest that consumers experience personalization reactance in response to highly personalized messages when the fit between the offer in the message and consumers’ personal character- istics is not explicitly justified by firms. consequently, consumers are less willing to respond favorably to the offer. results of two studies suggest that this effect primarily emerges for consumers who perceive the utility of the service to be relatively low. for those consumers with higher perceived utility, justification of personalization is less important because highly personalized messages are less likely to elicit reactance.”
Pavey, L., & Sparks, P.. (2009). Reactance, autonomy and paths to persuasion: Examining perceptions of threats to freedom and informational value. Motivation and Emotion, 33(3), 277–290.
“Autonomy, often associated with an open and reflective evaluation of experience, is sometimes confused with reactance, which indicates resistance to persuasion attempts. two studies examined a path model in which autonomy and reactance predicted motivation following the provision of anonymous or source-identified health-risk information, via the mediation of perceived threat to decision-making freedom and of perceived informational value. study 1 (n = 122) investigated alcohol consumption. the results showed that autonomy was positively related to autonomous motivation and intentions to drink responsibly. reactance negatively predicted autonomous motivation in the source-identified information condition but positively predicted autonomous motivation and intentions in the anonymous information condition. reactance negatively predicted attitudes through the mediation of perceived threat to decision-making freedom. study 2 (n = 145) tested our hypothesized model for smoking behavior and replicated several of the study 1 findings. implications for our understanding of autonomy, reactance, and responses to risk-information are discussed.”
Fogarty, J. S.. (1997). Reactance theory and patient noncompliance. Social Science & Medicine, 45(8), 1277–1288.
“With surprising frequency, and to the considerable dismay of care professionals, patients both subtly and overtly refuse to cooperate with medical treatment. despite considerable empirical and theoretical attention, and an abundance of interventions designed to combat it, noncompliance continues. its persistence is accompanied by considerable costs borne by patients and society alike. the theory of psychological reactance sheds new light on the phenomenon. reactance theory proposes that a perceived threat to an individual’s freedom generates a motivational state aimed at recapturing the affected freedom and preventing the loss of others. in a medical context, patients’ perceptions of threats to their freedom or control may induce noncompliance. this theory permits integration of many of the seemingly disparate and/or contradictory findings, and may afford professionals new opportunities for improving patient compliance.”
Beutler, L. E., Harwood, T. M., Michelson, A., Song, X., & Holman, J.. (2011). Resistance/Reactance Level. Journal of Clinical Psychology
“Psychotherapists from all professions and perspectives periodically struggle to effectively manage a patient’s resistance to change. this article provides definitions and examples of patient-treatment matching applied to patient resistance or reactance. we report the results from an original meta-analysis of 12 select studies (n = 1,102) on matching therapist directiveness to patient reactance. our findings support the hypothesis that patients exhibiting low levels of trait-like resistance respond better to directive types of treatment, while patients with high levels of resistance respond best to nondirective treatments (d = .82). limitations of the research reviewed are noted, and practice recommendations are advanced.”
Crawford, M. T., McConnell, A. R., Lewis, A. C., & Sherman, S. J.. (2002). Reactance, compliance, and anticipated regret. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
“In this paper we review the basic assumptions formulated by jack brehm in 1966 in his theory of psychological reactance and we sample some interesting directions of research on reactance that have been carried out by social psychologists during the last 40 years. we conclude that although there has been impressive development in the reactance research, more exciting avenues of investigation lie ahead. throughout the paper we outline some of these future directions.”
Rains, S. A.. (2013). The Nature of Psychological Reactance Revisited: A Meta-Analytic Review. Human Communication Research, 39(1), 47–73.
“Psychological reactance (brehm, 1966; brehm & brehm, 1981) has been a long-standing topic of interest among scholars studying the design and effects of persuasive messages and campaigns. yet, until recently, reactance was considered to be a motivational state that could not be measured. dillard and shen (2005) argued that reactance can be conceptualized as cognition and affect and made amenable to direct measurement. this article revisits dillard and shen’s (2005) questions about the nature of psychological reactance and reports a test designed to identify the best ﬁtting model of reactance. a meta-analytic review of reactance research was conducted (k = 20, n = 4,942) and the results were used to test path models representing competing conceptualizations of reactance. the results offer evidence that the intertwined model—in which reactance is modeled as a latent factor with anger and counterarguments serving as indicators—best ﬁt the data.”
Clee, M. A., & Wicklund, R. A.. (2002). Consumer Behavior and Psychological Reactance. Journal of Consumer Research
“A theory about psychological freedom is reviewed in terms of its broad appl- icability to consumer behavior. promotional influence, manipulative advertisements, product unavailability, and government regulations are all cast as potentially freedom-threatening events, and a theory of psychological react- ance details the consumer’s reply to reductions in freedom.”
Dillard, J. P., & Shen, L.. (2005). On the Nature of Reactance and its Role in Persuasive Health Communication. Communication Monographs, 72(2), 144–168.
“Reactance theory might be profitably applied to understanding failures in persuasive health communication but for one drawback: the developer of the theory contends that reactance cannot be measured. rejecting this position, this paper develops four alternative conceptual perspectives on the nature of reactance (i.e., combinations of cognition and affect), then provides an empirical test of each. two parallel studies were conducted, one advocating flossing ðn ¼ 196þ; the other urging students to limit their alcohol intake ðn ¼ 200þ: in both cases, a composite index of anger and negative cognitions fully mediated the effects of threat-to-freedom and trait reactance on attitude and intention. the data showed that, in fact, reactance can be operationalized as a composite of self-report indices of anger and negative cognitions. the implications for persuasive communication, in general, are considered as well the specific findings for flossing and drinking.”
Torrance, E. P., & Brehm, J. W.. (1968). A Theory of Psychological Reactance. The American Journal of Psychology, 81(1), 133.
“THIS theory states that individuals have certain freedoms with regard to their behavior. if these behavioral freedoms are reduced or threatened with reduction, the individual will be motivationally aroused to regain them. this is psychological reactance. the theory is examined in a series of experiments with personal and impersonal threats, and also in the light of attitude change theories. (psycinfo database record (c) 2004 apa, all rights reserved)”
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