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Motivation Science

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Psychological reactance theory (PRT; Brehm, 1966) posits that when something threatens or eliminates people’s freedom of behavior, they experience psychological reactance, a motivational state that drives freedom restoration. Complementing recent, discipline-specific reviews (e.g., Quick, Shen, & Dillard, 2013; Steindl, Jonas, Sittenthaler, Traut-Mattausch, & Greenberg, 2015), the current analysis integrates PRT research across fields in which it has flourished: social psychology and clinical psychology, as well as communication research. Moreover, the current review offers a rare synthesis of existing reactance measures. We outline five overlapping waves in the PRT literature: Wave 1: Theory proposal and testing, Wave 2: Contributions from clinical psychology, Wave 3: Contributions from communication research, Wave 4: Measurement of reactance, and Wave 5: Return to motivation. As part of our description of Wave 5, we detail scholars’ renewed focus on motivational aspects of the framework, and the ways in which this return to PRT’s motivational roots is allowing researchers to push its accuracy and applicability forward. We use this research that is already occurring in Wave 5 to outline three specific ways in which scholars can direct the continued application of motivation science to the advancement of PRT. Finally, as we outline in a future directions sections for each Wave, assimilating this research illustrates the ways in which an emphasis on motivation can expand and explain PRT research in communication, clinical psychology, and measurement.

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