A 50-year review of psychological reactance theory: Do not read this article

Benjamin D. Rosenberg, Jason T. Siegel
2017 Motivation Science  
Psychological reactance theory (PRT; Brehm, 1966) posits that when something threatens or eliminates people's freedom of behavior, they experience psychological reactance, a motivational state that drives freedom restoration. Complementing recent, discipline-specific reviews (e.g., Quick, Shen, & Dillard, 2013; Steindl, Jonas, Sittenthaler, Traut-Mattausch, & Greenberg, 2015) , the current analysis integrates PRT research across fields in which it has flourished: social psychology and clinical
more » ... sychology, as well as communication research. Moreover, the current review offers a rare synthesis of existing reactance measures. We outline five overlapping waves in the PRT literature: Wave 1: Theory proposal and testing, Wave 2: Contributions from clinical psychology, Wave 3: Contributions from communication research, Wave 4: Measurement of reactance, and Wave 5: Return to motivation. As part of our description of Wave 5, we detail scholars' renewed focus on motivational aspects of the framework, and the ways in which this return to PRT's motivational roots is allowing researchers to push its accuracy and applicability forward. We use this research that is already occurring in Wave 5 to outline three specific ways in which scholars can direct the continued application of motivation science to the advancement of PRT. Finally, as we outline in a future directions sections for each Wave, assimilating this research illustrates the ways in which an emphasis on motivation can expand and explain PRT research in communication, clinical psychology, and measurement. PSYCHOLOGICAL REACTANCE THEORY 2 A 50-year review of psychological reactance theory: Do not read this article Roughly 50 years ago, Brehm (1966) proposed psychological reactance theory (PRT). According to PRT, freedom of behavior is an important, beneficial, and pervasive aspect of people's lives; when that freedom is threatened, they become motivated to restore it (Brehm, 1966) . This motivation to restore threatened freedom, psychological reactance, is PRT's core construct, and has catalyzed over five decades of research on the topic. Complementing recent, discipline-specific comprehensive reviews , in the current analysis, we amalgamate PRT research across the multiple fields in which it has flourished. As a result of assimilating all of this research, we outline five prominent, overlapping waves in the PRT literature: Wave 1: Theory proposal and testing, Wave 2: Contributions from clinical psychology, Wave 3: Contributions from communication research, Wave 4: Measurement of reactance, and Wave 5: Return to motivation. As part of Wave 5, we indicate several possibilities for continued PRT research, such as examining experiences other than threats to valued behaviors that arouse reactance (e.g., identity threat, Kray, Thompson, & Galinsky, 2001 ). In addition, as a testament to the explanatory power of motivation science, we suggest that a focus on the motivational underpinnings of PRT can influence scholars in social and clinical psychology, communication, and measurement to continue advancement of the theory. Wave 1: Theory Proposal and Testing Psychological reactance theory (Brehm, 1966) was born out of the tradition of cognitive inconsistency theories (for a recent review see Proulx, Inzlicht, & Harmon-Jones, 2012), and more specifically, out of cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957) . Indeed, Festinger was Brehm's dissertation advisor (Chadee, 2011), and Brehm (1956) published one of the first empirical tests of cognitive dissonance. Both cognitive dissonance and PRT are focused on PSYCHOLOGICAL REACTANCE THEORY 3 motivational arousal and reduction; however, Brehm (1966) focused on a specific motivationthe motivation to maintain the freedom to choose when and how to behave. Following Brehm's proposal and initial testing of PRT (e.g., Brehm, 1966; Wicklund & Brehm, 1968) , researchers turned to further assessment and clarification of its assumptions and core components. Assumptions of PRT Psychological reactance theory is based on two assumptions. First, PRT assumes people have a set of free behaviors they believe they can enact (Brehm, 1966) . According to Brehm, free behaviors are acts people have engaged in previously, are currently engaged in, and could be engaged in the future. The second assumption of PRT is that when people's free behaviors are threatened or eliminated, they become motivated to restore their freedom. To be sure, people do not desire freedom, but its loss is motivationally arousing (Brehm, 1966) . These two assumptions result in numerous predictions about the characteristics of the freedoms and threats that arouse reactance, as well as the outcomes of reactance (for review see Brehm & Brehm, 1981) . Components of PRT For purposes of clarity, researchers have broken PRT into its component pieces and modeled it based on order of occurrence (e.g., : a) presence of freedom, b) elimination or threat to freedom, c) arousal of reactance, and d) restoration of freedom. Freedoms. The first component of PRT comes from the assumption that people have sets of free behaviors in which they can engage in the present or future (Brehm, 1966) . People do not consider all behaviors as freedoms; they exist only when two conditions are met: people are aware of the freedom (i.e., know it exists) and they feel capable of enacting it. Moreover, freedoms are subjective (Brehm & Brehm, 1981) : if people think they have the freedom to do something and feel they can enact it, then that freedom exists (e.g., Wicklund & Brehm, 1968) . PSYCHOLOGICAL REACTANCE THEORY 4 Elimination and threats to freedom. The second core component of PRT comes from the assumption that freedom restriction is aversive (Brehm, 1966) and creates a motivation to restore the lost freedom (i.e., psychological reactance). Anything that completely blocks people from performing a behavior or holding a certain position constitutes elimination of freedom (e.g., outright bans, Mazis, Settle, & Leslie, 1973) . Additionally, anything that impedes, but does not eliminate, freedom is a threat (e.g., attempted social influence, Brehm, 1966) . As an interesting caveat, people may interpret acts that are typically beneficial as threats to their freedom to act as they choose. For instance, Krishnan and Carment (1979) found that having a confederate help participants on a task pressured them to return the favor, which aroused reactance by threatening their freedom to help or not (for similar results see Nemeth, 1970). Arousal of reactance. Two broad factors determine how much reactance people will feel from a given threat: characteristics of the freedom and of the threat itself (Brehm, 1966) . Characteristics of the freedom. Brehm and Brehm (1981) suggested that the proportion of behaviors threatened and the importance of the threatened freedom would determine the amount of reactance a threat arouses. Despite initial backing (e.g., Wicklund, Slattum, & Solomon, 1970) , few subsequent studies have examined the prediction that the greater the proportion and number of freedoms threatened, the more reactance arousal (for an unsupportive
doi:10.1037/mot0000091 fatcat:yr7dz3v3wbbcbaryngemd4duoa