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Reactance Restoration

Definition

Reactance restoration is a concept grounded in Psychological Reactance Theory (PRT; Brehm, 1966). Brehm was interested in how people respond to a threat or a challenge to a personal freedom. PRT assumes that people value their freedoms, specifically, their freedom to choose among alternatives in a given situation. Individuals may become "reactant" to messages that communicate a threat to those freedoms. That is, when personal freedoms are threatened or challenged, a person may experience pressure or motivation to alleviate those threats. One possible outcome to such a threat is for the individual to engage in the threatened (or related) behavior or adopt an attitude consistent with maintaining the personal freedom. When a person adopts the behavior counter to the one proscribed, say, in a persuasive health message, a "boomerang" effect is said to occur (Worchel & Brehm, 1970). The person attempts to restore the threatened freedom in order to retain control over one's freedoms. Reactance will often show several boomerang effects, such as anger and negative thoughts (e.g., message derogation, counterarguing), in order to restore the eliminated freedom.

Direct measurement of psychological reactance, however, has occurred only recently (Dillard & Shen, 2005; Donnell, Thomas, & Buboltz, 2001; Hong & Faedda, 1996; Miller, Lane, Deatrick, Young, & Potts, 2007). Quick and Stephenson (2007) argue that these studies only partially measure Brehm's (1966) conceptualization of reactance. Specifically, they note that "individuals can restore their threatened or eliminated freedom by expressing in a manner opposite the threat, performing a related behavior to the threat, or vicariously performing the threat by observing others behave in a freedom-restoring manner (Brehm & Brehm, 1981)" (Quick & Stephenson, 2007b, p. 132).

According to Brehm and Brehm (1981), people who are reactant can restore their threatened or eliminated freedom in one of three mechanisms: 1) behave in a manner opposite the threat, 2) perform a related behavior to the threat, or 3) vicariously perform the threat by observing others behave in a freedom-restoring manner. Quick and Stephenson (2007b) proffer a Reactance Restoration Scale (RSS), which measures each of these three outcomes, as a way to tap the concept that Brehm and Brehm (1981) provided.

Suggested Measure

Reactance restoration was evaluated with the RRS (Quick & Stephenson, 2007b). The RRS consists of three questions followed by four semantic differential scales, and can be adapted to many health behavior contexts. Quick and Stephenson test their measure for the exercise and sunscreen contexts. Respondents record their response to each of word pairs on 7-point scales, for each statement (a) to (c), yielding 3 subscales of 4 items each, a total of 12 items.

Exercise context

(a) Right now, I am _____ to exercise. (α =.94)
(b) Right now, I am _____ to be around others who exercise. (α = .94)
(c) Right now, I am _____ to do something totally unhealthy. (α = .99)

  • motivated–unmotivated
  • determined–not determined
  • encouraged–not encouraged
  • inspired–not inspired

Responses to the first item measure a boomerang effect; responses to the second measure a vicarious boomerang effect; and responses to the third item measures a related boomerang effect.

Sunscreen context

(a) Right now, I am _____ to use sunscreen the next time I am exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time (greater than 15 minutes). (α = .93)
(b) Right now, I am _____ to be around others who use sunscreen when they are exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time (greater than 15 minutes). (α = .96)
(c) Right now, I am _____ to do something totally unhealthy. (α = .97)

  • motivated–unmotivated
  • determined–not determined
  • encouraged–not encouraged
  • inspired–not inspired

Again, responses to the first item measure a boomerang effect; responses to the second measure a vicarious boomerang effect; and responses to the third item measures a related boomerang effect.

Rationale for Selection

These items were chosen because they represent a range of contexts in which reactance restoration has been reliably measured and they can be adapted to a particular health context under study. Further, these items represent a stronger conceptualization of reactance restoration than previous research which measured a variety of different concepts, including attitudes (Dillard & Shen, 2005; Rains & Turner, 2007), behavioral intentions in opposition of the message (Buller, Borland, & Burgoon, 1998), message evaluations (Grandpre, Alvaro, Burgoon, Miller, & Hall 2003; Quick & Stephenson, 2007a), and message source derogation (Burgoon, Alvaro, Broneck, et al., 2002; Miller et al., 2007).

Reliability

Alphas for the RRS are very strong, ranging .93-.97.

Use of Measure (with examples)

Quick and Stephenson (2007a, 2007b, 2008) gathered data (N=550 undergraduate students) using the RRS in two health contexts: exercise and sunscreen use. For both exercise and sunscreen, the RSS was strongly positively related to anger and unfavorable cognitions (2008) and to both state and trait reactance (2007a; 2007b).

Additional Commentary

References

Brehm, J. W. (1966).

A theory of psychological reactance.
New York: Academic Press.

Brehm, J. W., & Brehm, S. S. (1981).

Psychological reactance: A theory of freedom and control. San Diego,
CA: Academic Press.

Burgoon, M., Alvaro, E. M., Broneck, K., Miller, C., Grandpre, J. R., Hall, J. R., & Frank, C. A. (2002).

Using interactive media tools to test substance abuse prevention messages. In W. D. Crano & M. Burgoon (Eds.),
Mass media and drug prevention: Classic and contemporary theories and research (pp. 67–87). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Dillard, J. P., & Shen, L. (2005).

On the nature of reactance and its role in persuasive health communication.
Communication Monographs, 72, 144–168.

Donnell, A. J., Thomas, A., & Buboltz, W. C. (2001).

Psychological reactance: Factor structure and internal consistency of the questionnaire for measurement of psychological reactance.
The Journal of Social Psychology, 141, 679–687.

Grandpre, J. R., Alvaro, E. M., Burgoon, M., Miller, C. H., & Hall, J. R. (2003).

Adolescent reactance and anti-smoking campaigns: A theoretical approach.
Health Communication,15, 349–366.

Hong, S.M., & Faedda, S. (1996).

Refinement of the Hong psychological reactance scale.
Educational and Psychological Measurement, 56, 173–182.

Miller, C. H., Lane, L. T., Deatrick, L. M., Young, A. M., & Potts, K. A. (2007).

Psychological reactance and promotional health messages: The effects of controlling language, lexical concreteness, and the restoration of freedom.
Human Communication Research, 33, 219–240.

Quick, B. L., & Stephenson, M. T. (2007a).

Further evidence that psychological reactance can be modeled as a combination of anger and negative cognitions.
Communication Research, 34, 255–276.

Quick, B. L., & Stephenson, M. T. (2007b).

The Reactance Restoration Scale (RRS): A measure of direct and indirect restoration.
Communication Research Reports, 24, 131–138.

Quick, B.L., & Stephenson, M.T. (2008).

Examining the role of trait reactance and sensation seeking on perceived threat, state reactance, and reactance restoration.
Human Communication Research, 34, 448-476.

Worchel, S., & Brehm, J. W. (1970).

Effect of threats to attitudinal freedom as a function of agreement with the communicator.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 14, 18–22.