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Reactance Theory

 

Explanations > Theories > Reactance Theory

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

When people feel that their freedom to choose an action is threatened, they get an unpleasant feeling called ‘reactance’. This also motivates them to perform the threatened behavior, thus proving that their free will has not been compromised.

Research

Pennebaker and Sanders (1976) put one of two signs on college bathroom walls. One read ‘Do not write on these walls under any circumstances’ whilst the other read ‘Please don’t write on these walls.’ A couple of weeks later, the walls with the ‘Do not write on these walls under any circumstances’ notice had far more graffiti on them.

Example

When persuading my children, I have to be careful because I know that if I push too hard they will do what I have told them not to do, just to show me who is really in charge! 

So what?

Using it

Beware of persuading too overtly or too much. If people get wind that they are being railroaded, they will leap right off the tracks.

See also

Cognitive Dissonance, Reverse Psychology, Reaction Formation

References

Brehm (1966), Pennebaker and Sanders (1976)

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