Crazy boomerang effect

19 Jun


We have all experienced that feeling of wanting to do the opposite of what others expect or demand, even when it would be the clear best action for us to take. On the other side, we watch with amazement when our friends or family members do the opposite of what we ask. This is the boomerang effect, and psychologists know it as reactance theory.

Reactance theory gained some popularity back in the 60s when Brehm published. Then it disappeared until the late 1990s when communications experts rediscovered it. Perhaps reactance can make the greatest difference in public health, where the audience views messages to change behavior as threats to freedom, motivating more bad behavior than before. The unintended consequence of many health messages is to weaken public health.

Consider that the US spent over one trillion dollars on the war against drugs forged by Richard Nixon. Much of this was in public health messages. The war has been over for a long time. Drugs won. Teens reacted to authoritarian anti-drug messages the same way they do to a “hard to get” person of the opposite sex – they got turned on, not off.


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