Reacting to reactance: An Interpersonal interpretation of the need for freedom

Madeline E. Heilman, Barbara Ley Toffler

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This study was designed to investigate the conditions under which the negative consequences of social influence attempts can be mitigated by freedom-affirming interventions. Eighty-eight high school girls received an influence message, presumably written by a co-worker, containing either a threat or a promise. In addition, subjects were or were not given a choice option as to mode of compliance, if they chose to comply with the message. In half the cases, the Interpersonal condition, subjects received their choice/no choice option from their co-worker; in the other half of the cases, the Noninterpersonal condition, subjects were assigned the choice/no choice option by a random event unknown to the influencing agent. As anticipated, in the Interpersonal as compared to the Noninterpersonal condition, (a) threats produced greater compliance when a choice was offered than when it was not, and (b) promises and threats were more equivalent in gaining compliance when a choice was offered than when it was not. These results, which suggest that in a social setting individuals' concerns about freedom are interpersonally motivated, are discussed in terms of their relation to and implications for reactance theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-529
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1976


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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