Reactance as a result of repeated threats and an intervening restoration of attitudinal freedom

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This experiment investigated the effect of successive threats to the same attitudinal freedom on reactance arousal. Although the effect of repeated or successive threats to freedom was not considered in the original statement of reactance theory, later research suggests there will be special effects. A series of threats in close succession may arouse greater reactance than an additive model would predict. One possible explanation for such an increase in reactance is that the initial threat makes later threats more salient. Another possibility is that the later threat helps to clarify the individual's perception of the threatener's intention; that is, repeated threats imply that the behavior is directed toward the individual with a goal in mind. A second factor in the situation is whether the threatened individual has an opportunity to restore freedom between threats. Experiments on the prior exercise of freedom imply that an intervening reassertion of freedom will weaken the effect of subsequent threats by undermining their credibility. An experimental situation was created in which subjects were introduced to a (fictional) candidate for appointive office. After reading an initial description of the candidate and completing an initial preference rating, subjects received a pair of communications advocating his selection. Then a final rating of preference was made. The first communication always contained a threat to the freedom to reject the candidate. The first variable was the presence or absence of a threat in the second communication (Two vs. One Threat). The second variable was the presence or absence of an opportunity to restore freedom between the first and second communications (Forced Restoration vs. No Restoration), in the form of an essay pointing up reasons against the selection of the candidate. It was predicted that subjects' would exhibit greater negative change (in the direction of greater opposition to the candidate) after repeated threats than after a single threat when no intervening opportunity to restore freedom was permitted. No increase in negative change after successive threats v/as expected when an intervening restoration was allowed. A third variable, whether the second communication was attributed to the original communicator or a different one (Same vs. Different Source), was added to the design to gather support for either the salience or the perceived intent explanation for repeated threat effects. If the initial threat makes later ones more salient, the source of the later threat should make no difference. If the later threat clarifies the intent behind the first, then only repeated threats from the same source should produce an increase in negative change. The results of the experiment were not arrayed as expected. The only significant increase in negative change after repeated threats did occur when no restoration came between them. However, the increase appeared when the threats had different sources rather than the same source. This pattern of results supports neither the salience nor the perceived intent explanations. In addition, the intervening restoration had an unanticipated negative effect on change. These effects were considered as partial confirmation of the hypothesis, and it was proposed that threats from different sources aroused more reactance because they were perceived as different threats, while threats from the same source were viewed as a single, extended threat. Alternative explanations were discussed and issues for future research were raised.



This thesis was digitized as part of a project begun in 2014 to increase the number of Duke psychology theses available online. The digitization project was spearheaded by Ciara Healy.




Archer, Richard Lloyd, 1948- (1976). Reactance as a result of repeated threats and an intervening restoration of attitudinal freedom. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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