Psychological Reactance in College Students: Family-of-Origin Predictors. (Research)
Buboltz, Walter C., Jr., Johnson, Patrick, Woller, Kevin M. P., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD
The theory of psychological reactance proposes that when behavioral freedoms are threatened with elimination or reduction, individuals will be motivated to protect or restore their sense of freedom (J. W. Brehm, 1966; S. S. Brehm & Brehm, 1981). Attempts to restrict an individual's freedom often produce a reactive "boomerang effect," that is, an increase in the restricted behavior (S. S. Brehm & Brehm, 1981). In addition to directly engaging in the prohibited behavior, reactance can be expressed by observing others engaging in the behavior, by engaging in related behavior, or by engaging in aggression against the prohibitor (Dowd, 1999).
Whereas psychological reactance was originally theorized to be a social psychological, situation-specific construct, recent studies have shown individual differences in the tendency to be reactant (Buboltz & Woller, 1997; Buboltz, Woller, & Pepper, 1999). In other words, people with certain personality characteristics seem to exhibit a greater tendency to be reactant in relation to their freedoms being restricted than do others. For example, high levels of reactance have been associated with paranoid, borderline, sadistic, and antisocial personality patterns (Huck, 1998). Highly reactant individuals also experience higher levels of stress and tend to use coping styles designed to relieve the emotional impact of stress (Palmentera, 1996). In summarizing the results of several studies (i.e., Dowd & Wallbrown, 1993; Dowd, Wallbrown, Sanders, & Yesenosky, 1994), Dowd (1999) stated that reactant people tend to be autonomous, dominant, lacking in self-control, not particularly tolerant, not particularly interested in making a good impression, and not seeking to care for others or to be cared for by others.
In addition to being related to certain personality characteristics, psychological reactance has been posited as a client variable mediating the process and outcome of counseling (Dowd, 1999; Dowd et al., 1988; Dowd, Milne, & Wise, 1991; Dowd & Seibel, 1990; Horvath & Goheen, 1990; Tracey, Ellickson, & Sherry, 1989). In particular, it has been hypothesized that highly reactant individuals would be difficult to handle in counseling; that is, they would be more likely to miss sessions, to be late for sessions, to be less satisfied with their counselor, to resist counselor directives, and to react strongly to perceived threats to their freedom (Dowd, 1999). Although not conclusive, research seems to support the notion that highly reactant individuals are challenging as clients. High levels of reactance, for example, have been associated with a greater number of "no shows" at counseling sessions (Morgan, 1986), higher levels of symptom severity (Bischoff, 1997), and more resistance to following counselor directives (Bischoff, 1997). Reactant individuals have also been found to view their counselors less favorably and to receive more negative ratings of global improvement from their counselors (March, 1993; Seibel & Dowd, 1999). Thus, psychological reactance seems to play a role in the therapeutic process and may be an important variable for counselors to consider.
Dowd and Seibel (1990) proposed a theory of the etiology of reactance that focuses on the importance of parenting skills (i.e., consistency, unconditional acceptance, and support of separation and autonomy) in developing an optimal level of reactance in children, which is theorized to foster healthy identity development. Dowd and Seibel defined an optimal level of reactance as autonomy and a separate sense of self without excessive reactivity. Autonomy from primary caretakers is necessary for healthy identity development; however, reactive expression of autonomy is ineffective in developing a true identity. Thus, children need to be supported in their efforts at developing autonomy and, at the same time, to be given the reassurance of a secure base in order to develop an optimal level of reactance, which fosters flexible autonomy and healthy identity development.
Other than Dowd and Seibel's (1990) theory, little has been written about the etiology of reactance because few studies have assessed the predictors of high and low levels of psychological reactance. One study assessed the relationship between reactance and Erikson's psychosocial stages and found that positive resolutions of the developmental stages were related to low levels of reactance, whereas negative resolutions were related to high levels of reactance (Pepper, 1996). Other studies have shown that parental divorce and poor functioning in the family of origin (i.e., frequent conflict, lack of communication, and low levels of cohesion) predict difficulties with developmental task attainment for college students, including reactive emotional cutoffs from parents (Johnson & McNeil, 1998; Johnson & Nelson, 1998; Johnson, Wilkinson, & McNeil, 1995) and low levels of vocational identity (Johnson, Buboltz, & Nichols, 1999). It may be that these developmental difficulties, particularly the reactive cut-offs, signify a high degree of psychological reactance. Thus, family-of-origin variables may be related to the development of psychological reactance, as theorized by Dowd and Seibel.
A greater understanding of the etiology of reactance could prove to be helpful for counselors as they endeavor to find effective methods of addressing the emotional and behavioral manifestations of reactance in their clients. The purpose of the present study was to assess the relationship between family-of-origin variables and psychological reactance. Specifically, the study attempted to determine if parental divorce and family functioning predict the level of psychological reactance in college students. To that end, the following research questions were assessed. …
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Publication information: Article title: Psychological Reactance in College Students: Family-of-Origin Predictors. (Research). Contributors: Buboltz, Walter C., Jr. - Author, Johnson, Patrick - Author, Woller, Kevin M. P. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD. Volume: 81. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 2003. Page number: 311+. © American Counseling Association Summer 2010. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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