Reactance

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  • Topic: Cognition, International Communication Association, Psychology
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Human Communication Research ISSN 0360-3989

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Psychological Reactance and Persuasive Health Communication: A Test and Extension of the Intertwined Model Stephen A. Rains1 & Monique Mitchell Turner2
1 Department of Communication, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0025 2 Department of Communication, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742

This manuscript reports 2 experiments that were conducted to test and extend the work of J. P. Dillard and L. Shen (2005) examining the cognitive and affective processes involved in psychological reactance. In particular, the studies reported here (a) examined the best-fitting model of reactance processes and (b) tested 3 factors that may affect reactance including argument quality, severity of the consequences associated with the message topic, and magnitude of the request made in the message. The results showed that the intertwined cognitive–affective model was the best-fitting model of reactance processes. Magnitude of the request was the only variable that affected reactance. The implications of these findings for research on reactance and persuasive health campaigns are discussed. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2007.00298.x

Although a great deal of research has been conducted to understand factors that lead to attitude change, scholars have recently argued that more attention should be paid to resistance processes (Burgoon, Alvaro, Grandpre, & Voloudakis, 2002; Dillard & Shen, 2005; Jacks & Cameron, 2003). The import of exploring how individuals resist attitude change is evidenced by the failure of persuasive health campaigns (Backer, Rogers, & Sopory, 1992; Hornik, 2002; Salmon & Murray-Johnson, 2001), as well as those campaigns resulting in relatively small effect sizes (Snyder, 2001). In the broader context of research on resistance to persuasion, psychological reactance (Brehm, 1966) has been offered as one cause for message rejection (Burgoon, Alvaro, et al., 2002). Ringold (2002), for example, attributes the failure of campaigns aimed at reducing alcohol consumption among young adults to reactance, arguing that interventions such as educational efforts, warnings, and legal restrictions have ‘‘produced boomerang effects . largely consistent with the conditions necessary to, and responses predicted by, psychological reactance theory’’ (p. 51). Through limiting or Corresponding author: Stephen A. Rains; e-mail: srains@email.arizona.edu Dr. Steven Wilson served as editor for this manuscript. Human Communication Research 33 (2007) 241–269 ª 2007 International Communication Association

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Reactance

S. A. Rains & M. Mitchell Turner

threatening freedoms, health messages such as those evaluated by Ringold have the potential to elicit reactance and, as a result, lead individuals to ignore the message, perform the opposite of the behavior advocated (i.e., the boomerang effect), or otherwise attempt to restore their threatened or lost freedom. Although psychological reactance has been widely researched (see Burgoon, Alvaro, et al., 2002, for a review), few studies have examined the cognitive and affective processes comprising reactance (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993).1 One exception is the work of Dillard and Shen (2005) in which they conceptualized reactance as the negative cognitions and affect resulting from a threat to one’s freedom and tested four different models of reactance processes. Along with Dillard and Shen, we contend that understanding the chain of cognitive and affective responses involved in reactance is essential to developing effective persuasive messages in the future. Thus, we set out to achieve two goals in this study. The first goal was to determine the relationship between cognition and affect in reactance. Working from Dillard and Shen’s operationalization of reactance as counterarguments and anger, we tested the intertwined model and dual-process model of reactance along with a third possibility: the linear affective–cognitive...
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