Psychological reactance theory posits that when people are faced with threats to, or elimination of, behavioral freedom, they experience an aversive motivational state (i.e., psychological reactance). Recent research indicates that people’s state of mind affects reactance arousal processes. We hypothesized that being in a state of threatening uncertainty would cause people to experience less psychological reactance to a freedom-threatening communication than those in a state of certainty. We randomly assigned 114 students from a North American University to an uncertainty- or certainty-inducing recall task; they were then exposed to a reactance-arousing message. Compared to participants primed to feel certain, those primed with threatening uncertainty reported significantly less threat and more positive attitudes in response to a freedom threatening communication. Mediation analysis revealed an indirect effect of feelings of threatening uncertainty on people’s behavioral intentions, through perceptions of the controlling message. Results support our hypothesis: people in a state of uncertainty experience less psychological reactance than those in a state of certainty.
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Available for download on Thursday, October 27, 2022