Reactance Theory

Do not read this article! We repeat, DO NOT read this article. You still have time, stop reading and close this window! Oh, looks like you are reading the article, after all. We like you, you cheeky little human! You’re a rebel, aren’t you? However, if you thought that you were the only rebel, we would like to disagree. Actually, science would disagree.


You see, what you just did there, by reading this article, when the instruction clearly was the opposite, is called psychological reactance. In daily parlance, it is often referred to as reverse psychology (it is interesting to note that in the actual psychological domain, there is nothing called reverse psychology).


Reactance occurs quite often and it has got to do with the way we perceive our freedom. When somebody asks us not to do something, we immediately sense a threat to our freedom and to ensure that we are in charge of our freedom, we tend to do the exact opposite, regardless of the utility of that act for us.


Reactance occurs quite often in case of children and adolescents. In the teenage years, there seems to be a peak in our attempt at retaining our independence and we are often at loggerheads with our parents and other authority figures. However, even as adults, we often exhibit this behaviour and some of them are universally experienced.


Here are the top 3 instances where we exhibit reactance:


1. When Trying To Woo The ‘Unwooable.’


We all have felt that uncontrollable desire to get the person who seems to be just out of reach. When we are told to back off, that is when we try and put our best foot forward. This is reactance theory playing its classic role where anything that is unattainable begins to feel more attractive. Perhaps that is why when the person eventually reciprocates, the unattainable tag is shed off and that is when we are not so attracted to them anymore!


2. When Used Against Us By Shopping Companies


There was a time when would try to coax you into buying ingenious products but just ended up being the butt of jokes, thanks to reactance theory. But, now, markets have gotten smarter. Phones are sold online on special sale which require us to sign up and wait and yet gets sold out within minutes. But we do not give up; we wait and try, maybe three or even four times until we lay our hands on the phone that is so much in demand! Again, that what is unattainable is most wanted.


3. When Movies Get Banned


Have you watched ‘Bandit Queen’, or ‘Water’, or ‘Fire’, or ‘Parzania’? You definitely must have watched the BBC Documentary ‘India’s Daughter’. These are classic examples of movies that get banned to garner special interest in the audience. If you are one among them, you are simply exercising your freedom and displaying reactance.


"This phenomenon is so common these days in the online sphere that it has earned itself a term of its own: Streisand Effect. We would like to leave you with the quote by Mike Masnik, the man who coined the term, when he first used the term: How long is it going to take before lawyers realize that the simple act of trying to repress something they don't like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see (like a photo of a urinal in some random beach resort) is now seen by many more people? Let's call it the Streisand Effect."


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