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On the Nature of Reactance and its Role in Persuasive Health Communication

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Reactance theory might be profitably applied to understanding failures in persuasive health communication but for one drawback: The developer of the theory contends that reactance cannot be measured. Rejecting this position, this paper develops four alternative conceptual perspectives on the nature of reactance (i.e., combinations of cognition and affect), then provides an empirical test of each. Two parallel studies were conducted, one advocating flossing (N=196), the other urging students to limit their alcohol intake (N=200). In both cases, a composite index of anger and negative cognitions fully mediated the effects of threat-to-freedom and trait reactance on attitude and intention. The data showed that, in fact, reactance can be operationalized as a composite of self-report indices of anger and negative cognitions. The implications for persuasive communication, in general, are considered as well the specific findings for flossing and drinking.

Keywords: Anger; Persuasion; Reactance; Threat to Freedom

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03637750500111815

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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