Psychological reactance is the effect of irrational choice for freedom - we choose to go for a greater loss just because we like to make the bad decision for ourselves. What is the advantage behind that?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hi Probably, those are some rather bold statements. Do you have any research to back up your claims? $\endgroup$ – Robin Kramer Nov 6 '17 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ From the Wikipedia page: "The fear of loss of further freedoms can spark this arousal and motivate them to re-establish the threatened freedom. Because this motivational state is a result of the perceived reduction of one's freedom of action, it is considered a counterforce, and thus is called "psychological reactance"." I believe you incorrectly portray psychological reactance in your question as 'choos[ing] to go for a greater loss'. Certainly it implies this might be the case, but its definition does not seem to entail this must be the case. You might want to qualify this. -1 $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Nov 9 '17 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris I don't see point of your quote, unlike the previous sentences "such behavior can be observed when an individual engages in a prohibited activity in order to deliberately taunt the authority who prohibits it, regardless of the utility or disutility" - which is what I wrote. Firstly, the fact that the perception is natural doesn't mean it's an objective measurement of our best possibilities. That's only rational thinking. Reactance is a cognitive bias which means it can play in our actions even though it's a trend that changes the rational thinking. $\endgroup$ – Probably Nov 9 '17 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ Secondly, those are two separate sentences, it doesn't mean we always choose that way. $\endgroup$ – Probably Nov 9 '17 at 13:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ These are indeed two (combined) sentences. I merely pointed out the way you combined the two sentences (using what I presume to be an em dash) seems to suggest an explanation following a definition. If it is an example, one would typically write "e.g." (or 'an example' as is the case in the sentence you just quoted) at the start of that second sentence to eliminate confusion. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Nov 9 '17 at 13:21

Too lazy to paraphrase right now, so quoting from a newsletter

Brehm [the guy how introduced the notion Psychological Reactance--my note] has made but one remark about why people seem to behave as his theory describes. He wrote that the reactance-emotion may have “survival-value” (Brehm 1966, p. 1-2). This explanation seems quite plausible. People and other organisms who are frequently in situations in which they can choose between different behavior alternatives are likely to have evolved a capacity for choosing what is most often best for their fitness. Moreover, creating, defending and restoring situations in which the individual is free to make a choice may in itself enhance fitness. Therefore, natural selection probably favored individuals who not only perceive when their freedom is threatened, but also act so as to defend that freedom. Brehm has described the psychological mechanism by which people (and probably many other species) are motivated to defend their freedom. That is, the attractiveness of behaviors varies with the freedom an individual perceives to possess.

As with most evolutionary hypotheses of behavior, it's probably hard to test.

I tried to find papers on animal models of reactance, but (unlike say for learned helplessness) there don't seem to be any. A recent review doesn't mention any such models either. It does however say some things that contradict your assumption that's just a negative outcome:

reactance can produce both undesirable and desirable outcomes. It has been found, for example, that the experience of reactance can elicit heightened achievement motivation (Steindl & Jonas, 2014). Recent studies have also shown that the experience of reactance can be associated not just with negative feelings, such as anger, but also with activating positive affect, such as feeling strong and determined (Steindl, Jonas, et al., 2015). We invite future research to investigate the desirable motivational side of reactance in order to make use of its energizing probabilities.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As mentioned in my comment, I also did not find reason for his assumption (negative outcome) in the Wikipedia source he has now cited in an update. If he updates his question, you might want to update your answer. Although your answers are greatly appreciated, this is a nice example of why it sometimes makes more sense to first help the OP formulating a better question (possibly putting the question on hold) prior to answering it. That said, I believe your first quote is still valid. +1 $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Nov 9 '17 at 9:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.