Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Can Similarity Reduce Reactance?

When a person’s freedom is reduced or threatened, they usually experience reactance, a motivational state that people would go through to restore their freedom. Under this state, people often hold an opposing view to the belief and attitude that they were encountered (Brehm, 1966 as cited in Silvia, 2005). However, Silvia (2005) suggested that reactance can be reduced by increasing compliance and reducing resistance.  By introducing the interpersonal similarity variable into the study, he found something interesting. It is believed that similarity could be effective in affecting both compliance and resistance influence forces.

To test whether similarity can actually create compliance to confront the threats of freedom, 62 undergraduates were recruited. In experiment 1, participants were asked to read a passage containing information which would create either high or low threats within participants.  After that, they were assigned to one of the similarity conditions randomly: - information of the communicator provided was high in similarity (shared first name, birthday, gender, and year in school with participants), 2 – low similarity condition (the communicator only shared same home state and hobbies with the participants), 3 – unstated similarity condition served as a control and no information about the communicator was provided. The dependent measure was the agreement of participants toward the essay which was measured on a 7-point rating scale.

As we can see from the table above (TABLE 1), subjects in both high and low threat conditions agreed more when similarity between them and the communicator was high. It indicated that threatening messages did not necessarily induce reactance when they come from people who have more characteristics in common.

Silvia (2005) conducted the second experiment with another 50 undergraduates to further investigate this effect. The procedures were similar to the first experiment. Participants were asked to rank 10 values (equality, happiness, justice, peace, true friendship, power, exciting life, accomplishment, freedom, and creativity) in terms of personal importance. They were then provided the value ranking of a fictional communicator (a fabricated survey) and were asked their impression to the communicator. In high similarity condition, the ranks between the participants and the communicator were nearly identical whereas a nearly opposite value ranking was provided in the low similarity condition.

As predicted, participants seem the communicator who held same values as them more positive. A 7-point scale rating of agreement and perceived coerciveness was completed by them immediately after reading the threatening message. Again, people in high similarity condition significantly agreed with the communicator’s message in both high and low threat conditions. Besides, liking for the communicator also increased. But most importantly, high similarity groups perceived the message by the communicator as less coercive.The reduced perceptions of threat in high similarity groups were found even under high threat condition. These demonstrated that similarity can effectively reduce the negative force (perceptions of threat) toward resistance and encouraging positive force (interpretations of threat and increase in liking).

To sum up, interpersonal similarity can served as a moderator of reactance by balancing the forces between compliance and resistance.


Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic.

Silvia, P. J. (2005). Deflecting reactance: The role of similarity in increasing compliance and reducing resistance. Basic and Applied Social Psychology,27(3), 277-284.

Hau Wong (Blog 3)

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