Date of Award

Spring 2022

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Psychology, PhD

Program

School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Eusebio M. Alvaro

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

William D. Crano

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jason T. Siegel

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

James P. Dillard

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2022 Thomas V Staunton

Abstract

Psychological reactance theory (Brehm, 1966) has helped guide research on resistance to persuasion for over a half century. The theory holds that individuals value their freedom to make their own decisions, and when presented with a persuasive message, may perceive threat to their autonomy and react adversely to the message. Impersonal or mass disseminated messages, particularly those in pro-social or health related contexts, often must communicate in a manner that is direct and forceful to get a clear point across as efficiently as possible. Such messages can be characterized as high controlling (HC) and are generally constructed by using explicit language in conjunction with choice-restricting phrases. Although HC messages tend to elicit reactance, scholars have argued that they hold value in certain contexts (e.g., Shen, 2015). Further, when people experience reactance against a HC message, and ostensibly resist persuasion, little is known about the relationship between reactance and attitude certainty. Three studies were conducted to a) test the interplay between varying levels of explicitness and dominance in persuasive messages and b) to examine how the experience of reactance impacts attitude certainty toward the topic of a message. Study 1 found choice-restricting language, and not the degree of explicitness, to be responsible for adverse outcomes, suggesting that messages, if carefully constructed, could benefit from the quality of being explicit with little concern for eliciting reactance. Results from both Study 1 and Study 2 indicated that when people are presented with persuasive messages, particularly messages that inspire reactance, they are more likely to report less attitude certainty than those presented with a non-persuasive message. A third study attempted to further reduce attitude certainty by using feedback mechanisms designed either to call attention to the receiver’s reactance as an illegitimate strategy for rejecting a message or to request receivers to take the perspective of the counter-position to help generate arguments in favor of the opposing view. The feedback options utilized in Study 3 failed to reduce certainty compared to a no-feedback condition. Overall, the findings of the current dissertation suggest that a) explicit language can be used in conjunction with choice-enhancing language to create messages that are clear and direct yet free from the threat of reactance and b) the certainty with which people hold their reported attitudes are more likely to be diminished than they are to be bolstered after experiencing reactance.

Share

COinS