Sep 082008
 

Reactance Theory basically says that when people feel their freedom to choose between actions is unfairly threatened, they get an unpleasant feeling called “reactance” and they usually react with some action that asserts their free will, whether by resisting what is imposed on them, or by doing the opposite.

An study done on the matter is:

Pennebaker and Sanders (1976) put one of two signs on college bathroom walls. One read ‘Do not write on these walls under any circumstances’ whilst the other read ‘Please don’t write on these walls.’ A couple of weeks later, the walls with the ‘Do not write on these walls under any circumstances’ notice had far more graffiti on them.

I noticed something similar in the washrooms of a university building. Patrons of the washrooms used to throw toilet rolls into the toilet, thus clogging it up. One of the caretakers posted a stern sign in Engrish telling people not to throw paper towels (I dunno) in the toilet. A short time afterwards, the sign was covered in graffiti saying stuff like, “If you had proper TP, then I wouldn’t have to use paper towels.”

I’m sure you’ve noticed this sort of thing among teenagers. As a parent, you have to learn to get them to do what’s best for them without ordering them to, because if you order them, they’ll simply do the opposite. The teenage times are a time when a child starts to assert itself as an individual ego and its independance, like any human being, does not like to be controlled and ordered about.

I’ve got this very much, too. I don’t like being in forced situations, and that might be why I’m not a fan of traditional corporate situations in which being ten minutes late won’t make a difference either way, but I have to conform to that rule for no other reason than that it is a rule. And that is not just an excuse for being late or whatever, I pride myself on being punctual, I just don’t like the unfair restriction of being late, if you know what I mean. I figured that this was a desire for control, at its basis, and it might be.

More Reading:

Reactance Theory (short read)

Reactance Theory at Wikipedia

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