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Reactance: Definition, Examples and Effects

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Reactance is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a person feels their sense of freedom is being threatened or taken away. It's a motivational response that aims to push back against the threat to one's freedoms. For instance, if someone is told they can't do something or are pressured into making a certain decision, they might feel a strong urge to do the opposite. This isn't necessarily because the opposite choice is better or more appealing, but rather because they want to assert their autonomy and resist the perceived control.


In advertising, consumers may react negatively to overly pushy or persuasive techniques. In health, people might resist following advice or guidelines that they perceive as too restrictive. And in social or political contexts, reactance may underpin resistance to laws or norms that people perceive as limiting their freedoms.

Effects: Reactance can have both positive and negative effects on a person’s behavior. On the positive side, it can help people stand up for themselves and resist manipulation. On the negative side, it can lead to unnecessarily aggressive behavior and a knee-jerk refusal to cooperate. Reactance can also lead to feelings of frustration and resentment, which can have a negative impact on relationships.

Do you want to expand your knowledge on this topic? Read our full in-depth article on cognitive biases.

Do you have extra 15 minutes today? Take our fun and interactive quiz to learn which of 16 reasoning styles you use, your overall level of rationality, and what you can do now to improve your rationality skills.


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