In This Article Resisting Persuasion

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Journals
  • Persuasion Knowledge and Ad Literacy
  • Overcoming Resistance by Narrative Persuasion

Communication Resisting Persuasion
by
Marieke Fransen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0127

Introduction

The failure of realizing attitudinal or behavioral change by persuasive attempts is often attributed to bad message design, inappropriate use of communication strategies, or detrimental characteristics of the source. However, it has been acknowledged more and more that message receivers may also play an important role in accounting for the absence of attitudinal and behavioral change. Upon exposure to a persuasive message, people may experience psychological reactance because persuasive messages are perceived as a threat to freedom. This experience of psychological reactance often motivates people to adopt strategies that help them in resisting persuasion. Studying psychological reactance and strategies used to resist persuasive attempts is important in gaining a comprehensive understanding of persuasion processes. It may help explain, for example, why many health, marketing, and political campaigns fail to obtain the anticipated effects. The current bibliography provides an overview of theoretical and empirical literature regarding reactance and resistance toward persuasion. First, psychological reactance and resistance toward persuasion will be defined. Then, strategies that audiences adopt in resisting persuasion will be addressed, followed by techniques that may help audiences to resist persuasion. Moreover, related variables such as persuasion knowledge and skepticism will be discussed, and the article ends with a section on overcoming resistance by narrative persuasion.

Core Texts

Several books, book chapters, empirical articles, and theoretical articles have been written on the nature and effects of psychological reactance and resistance. McGuire 1964, on inoculation theory, was one of the first works to discuss the topic of resistance toward persuasion, defining it as a person’s ability to withstand a persuasive attack. McGuire was particularly interested in the question of how to increase resistance toward persuasion. Brehm 1980 proposed and discussed the (more general) theory of psychological reactance. This theory offers an explanation for people’s motivation to resist persuasion. Psychological reactance is defined as a motivational state that one experiences upon threats to attitudinal and behavioral freedoms. It is argued that any message aimed at changing one’s attitudes or behavior is perceived as a threat to freedom because it limits or eliminates freedom of choice (Brehm and Brehm 1981). This experienced threat of freedom often motivates people to restore their freedom by resisting the persuasive message. Burgoon, et al. 2002 provides an excellent overview of research on reactance theory in the field of communication. Clee and Wicklund 1980, a theoretical article, addresses the many applications for reactance theory, particularly for the field of consumer behavior. A more detailed overview on how people actually resist persuasion and how resistance can be overcome can be found in Knowles and Linn 2004. In this book, resistance toward persuasion is discussed from several perspectives and offers an overview of research that is conducted in this field. In Friestad and Wright 1994, the authors’ Persuasion Knowledge Model (PKM) proposes that people develop persuasion knowledge about the tactics and strategies marketers use in their persuasive attempt. They explain how this knowledge provides message recipients with control over the persuasive situation, which may subsequently foster resistance toward the message.

  • Brehm, Jack W. 1980. A theory of psychological reactance. Social Psychology. New York: Academic Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    In this book, the theory of psychological reactance is proposed and defined. It explains the consequences of eliminating or limiting people’s freedoms. This book offers great insights into why people may exert resistance toward persuasion. Particularly chapter 6 on persuasion and attitude change is very relevant in the context of persuasive communication. Originally published in 1966.

  • Brehm, Sharon S., and Jack W. Brehm. 1981. Psychological reactance: A theory of freedom and control. New York: Academic Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book is a further refinement of Brehm’s original theory on psychological reactance. In this book, unresolved issues in reactance research are addressed. The question of whether reactance effects are a direct reflection of the motivational state or whether they are caused by mediating cognitive processes is discussed.

  • Burgoon, Michael, Eusebio Alvaro, Joseph Grandpre, and Michael Voulodakis. 2002. Revisiting the theory of psychological reactance: Communicating threats to attitudinal freedom. In The persuasion handbook: Developments in theory and practice. Edited by James Price Dillard and Michael Pfau, 213–232. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    E-mail Citation »

    This chapter presents an extensive review of research on reactance theory. The authors stress the importance of studying psychological reactance in the field of social influence and persuasion, providing suggestions for further research. The chapter is very helpful in becoming familiar with the theory of reactance and the research that has been conducted in this area.

  • Clee, Mona A., and Robert A. Wicklund. 1980. Consumer behavior and psychological reactance. Journal of Consumer Research 6.4: 389–405.

    DOI: 10.1086/208782E-mail Citation »

    Very valuable theoretical article in which the authors illustrate the many possible research applications for reactance theory, particularly in the field of consumer behavior. They explain and discuss the theory as well as the research on reactance theory, proposing further research directions.

  • Friestad, Marian, and Peter Wright. 1994. The Persuasion Knowledge Model: How people cope with persuasion attempts. Journal of Consumer Research 21.1: 1–31.

    DOI: 10.1086/209380E-mail Citation »

    This often-cited theoretical article proposes the Persuasion Knowledge Model (PKM). This model describes how people develop persuasion knowledge (topic, agent, and persuasion) and how this knowledge is used to cope with persuasive attempts. This is the first model to include audience members’ persuasion knowledge in order to provide a more detailed view of the persuasion process.

  • Knowles, Eric S., and Jay A. Linn, eds. 2004. Resistance and persuasion. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    E-mail Citation »

    From different perspectives, this edited volume discusses resistance toward persuasion. It contains theoretical and empirical chapters that are written by leading scholars in the field. The book offers an overview of the research in resistance by focusing on the “nature of resistance in persuasion” and “strategies for overcoming resistance.”

  • McGuire, William J. 1964. Inducing resistance to persuasion: Some contemporary approaches. In Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 1. Edited by Leonard Berkowitz, 191–229. New York: Academic Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This chapter is often perceived as the starting point for research into strategies that increase resistance toward persuasion. The author reviews general approaches to resisting persuasion and introduces the inoculation approach. Furthermore, the author’s initial experiments on inoculation theory are presented and discussed.

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