Reactance theory: A Bibliometric Review

Gustavo Viegas Rodrigues, Eduardo Dantas Soares, Evandro Luiz Lopes, Otávio Bandeira De Lamônica Freire


Reactance theory was proposed almost 50 years ago as a ramification of the cognitive dissonance theory. Reactance would emerge once any given freedom is threatened (J. W. Brehm, 1966), as a motivational state in order to protect one’s capacity to choose whatever they want. Psychological reactance related directly to the sour grapes effect, in which the objects that become unobtainable are then derogated by individuals (Lesse & Venkatesan, 1977). Although a few reviews about Reactance Theory have been done in these almost 50 years since it was proposed, none to our knowledge have applied a proper bibliometric technique to map the knowledge to date about the theory. We have designed a bibliometric study and identified that the reactance theory spreads over different areas of knowledge, as psychology, consumer behavior and health studies, with a whole stream of reactance research within the latter, on what regards the understanding of patient compliance towards recommended treatments or even how is the public reaction towards campaigns to reduce smoking or alcohol consumption.  Our search for the articles that were part of this research was made on the Web of Knowledge repository, using the following expressions: “psychological reactance”, “reactance theory”, “psychological freedom” and “reatância psicológica”. The last one is the translation of psychological reactance in Portuguese, but we have not found any worth-including articles, except for one, which was considered in the analysis. The search resulted in a bulk of 382 articles, which summed over 5,500 citations in nearly 50 years – since Brehm’s work that proposed the theory (J. W. Brehm, 1966). Our objective with this study was to categorize reactance theory research and understand whether its approach from the consumer behavior standpoint represents a relevant path for further research. Our bibliometric approach involved analyzing co-citations and running a factor analysis in order to understand how the articles are grouped in factors that determined the organization of the knowledge. We also presented a word cloud about the subject to identify the main trends. As a result, we understood the importance of the theory for each field of knowledge, confirmed that there were important consequences for grasping consumer behavior, specially related with emotions and communication framing, although we did expect stronger representation of those subjects in the factors and suggested future areas to be investigated within consumer studies. However, it is important not to lose sight of the the difficulty on verifying the reactance manipulation in a context in which the consumer has his freedom of choice threatened, making any reactance studies more challenging.


Psychological Reactance, Psychological Freedom, Consumer Reactance

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Revista de Administração da Unimep. ISSN 1679-5350. Publicação eletrônica vinculada ao Programa de Pós-graduação stricto sensu em Administração da Universidade Metodista de Piracicaba.