I believe I'm having so much trouble figuring this out because I'm not sure what question to ask. As a few examples,

A child of an extremely religious family engaging heavily in behaviors considered unacceptable under their family's beliefs.

Someone who hates their career in an extremely analytical field switching to an extremely creative one (e.g. a software developer becoming a fashion photographer).

Reaction formation seemed to fit the bill, but that involves an extreme reaction to an unacceptable impulse rather than chronic exposure to a stressor. Compensation also doesn't seem to apply because that's a reaction to a self-identified weakness or deficiency.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure, because I haven't studied Abnormal and clinical Psychology yet, but that COULD be signs of anti-social behaviour. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 10:00

1 Answer 1


The pattern of behavior you are describing is called psychological reactance.

Reactance as a concept has been formalized in Jack Brehm's work in the 1960s, who has proposed a Theory of Psychological Reactance (1966). The theory posits that threats to personal freedom cause motivational arousal directed at reestablishing freedom. Consequently, the attractiveness of those behavioral choices that are eliminated or threatened can be increased.

A textbook example is a study (Brehm, Stires, Sensenig, & Shaban, 1966) in which students were promised to choose one of several music recordings. When one of the alternatives was taken away, it was perceived to be more attractive (but only when the students had the expectation that they could decide freely).

Since then, the concept has been applied to a wide variety of settings such as the role of eliminated freedom in consumer behavior (e.g., Clee & Wicklund, 1980), the persuasive effects of promotional health messages (e.g., Dillard & Shen, 2005), or patient noncompliance in therapeutic settings (e.g., Fogarty, 1997).


Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic Press.

Brehm, J. W., Stires, L. K., Sensenig, J., & Shaban, J. (1966). The attractiveness of an eliminated choice alternative. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2, 301–313. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(66)90086-2

Clee, M. A., & Wicklund, R. A. (1980). Consumer behavior and psychological reactance. Journal of Consumer Research, 6, 389–405.

Dillard, J. P., & Shen, L. (2005). On the nature of reactance and its role in persuasive health communication. Communication Monographs, 72, 144–168. doi:10.1080/03637750500111815

Fogarty, J. S. (1997). Reactance theory and patient noncompliance. Social Science & Medicine, 45, 1277–1288. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(97)00055-5


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