2012. Vol.3, No.12A, 1153-1160
Published Online December 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1153
What Reasons Might the Other One Have?—Perspective Taking
to Reduce Psychological Reactance in Individualists and
Christina Steindl, Eva Jonas
Department of Psychology, Social Psychology, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria
Received September 26th, 2012; revised October 26th, 2012; accepted November 23rd, 2012
Previous research has demonstrated a considerable amount of negative consequences resulting from psy-
chological reactance. The purpose of this study was to explore opportunities to reduce the amount of re-
actance. Using the method of perspective taking as an intervention, the current study of 196 Austrians and
198 Filipinos examined whether reactance could be reduced and whether individualists and collectivists
differ concerning reactance and their perspective taking abilities. Our results indicated that participants
who took the perspective of the person who threatened them experienced less reactance than participants
who did not take this approach. This was the case for people from both cultural backgrounds. Neverthe-
less, comparisons among the two cultural groups yielded different reactions to restrictions. This indicates
that individualists are more sensitive to a self-experienced restriction than collectivists, but less sensitive
to a restriction of another person. Consequently, we consider culture to be a crucial determinant in pre-
dicting the amount of reactance.
Keywords: Reactance; Perspective Taking; Individualists; Collectivists
We all know the tragic romance of Romeo and Juliet (Shake-
speare, 1597). The story of two young lovers from very differ-
ent families that deeply hate each other. Their families’ prohi-
bition of their freedom to see each other not only intensifies the
couple’s instant passion and love for each other but also inten-
sifies the hate toward their families. The attempt to fight against
the restriction to share their lives together finally culminates in
the lovers’ tragic suicides.
In the context of psychological reactance theory (Brehm,
1966; Brehm & Brehm, 1981), the increasing passion for
something that is forbidden has also been called “Romeo and
Juliet effect”. This term has become a synonym for describing a
situation in which something becomes even more attractive as
parental surveillance grows. Reactance theory assumes that
people expect to have certain freedoms. If these freedoms are
threatened, for example by rules or prohibitions, people ex-
perience psychological reactance, a motivational state which
makes the threatened freedom appear even more desirable.
Consequently they aim to restore it (Brehm, 1966, 1972; Brehm,
S. S. & Brehm, J. W., 1981; Gniech & Grabitz, 1980). In addi-
tion, a restricted person experiences uncomfortable inner proc-
esses, such as hostility, aggression and resistance toward the
threatening person (Gniech & Grabitz, 1980). This in turn can
lead to a conflict-ridden relationship that can end in escalation,
as is the case of Romeo and Juliet.
How could one avoid dramatic consequences akin to those of
Romeo and Juliet, caused by serious, uncomfortable inner
processes that follow from restrictions? In the current article we
want to investigate whether perspective taking can help to re-
duce psychological reactance in order to avoid the negative
consequences and support a positive relationship between the
threatening and the threatened person instead. Furthermore we
want to explore whether there are differences between people
from different cultural backgrounds concerning the reduction of
reactance by perspective taking.
Psychological Reactance and Its Consequences
According to reactance theory (Brehm, 1966), freedom is the
belief that one can perform a particular behavior (Brehm, S. S.
& Brehm, J. W., 1981). Individuals who expect to have certain
freedoms and who are then restricted in their free behaviors
experience an unpleasant motivational arousal with the aim to
restore their freedom and avoid further threats (Brehm, 1966,
1972; Brehm, S. S. & Brehm, J. W., 1981; Gniech & Grabitz,
1980). But how exactly do people react when they experience
reactance? Brehm (1966) lists the following possibilities: A
direct and indirect restoration of the threatened freedom, an
increase of attractiveness of the forbidden alternative (boomer-
ang effect) and aggression toward the source of the threat.
In the example of Romeo and Juliet we can speculate that a
direct restoration of the threatened freedom might have been
achieved by doing exactly what is forbidden (i.e. Juliet meets
Romeo despite the ban). An indirect restoration of freedom
would have been present if Juliet had asked her sister to se-
cretly meet with Romeo, talk to him and report back to Juliet.
In this case, an increase in the attractiveness of the eliminated
choice is posed by the fact that Romeo becomes even more
desirable to Juliet as opposed to a situation in which no ban
would have existed. But there are even more harmful alterna-
tives. Juliet could have damaged the relationship with her par-
ents if she had become aggressive toward her parents i.e. by
shouting and derogating them. This behavior could have had
severe long-term effects because the formerly loving and trust-
ful relationship would have been damaged. Instead, bitterness,
hate and mistrust would have arisen. In addition, the sources of
the threat, in this case Juliet’s parents, would have lost influ-
ence over their daughter (Miller, Lane, Deatrick, Young, &
Potts, 2007).
To measure reactance many studies used the method of
changed attractiveness of the eliminated choice (Bushman &
Stack, 1996; Bijvank, Konijn, Bushman, & Roelofsma, 2009;
Mazis, 1975; Mazis, Settle, & Leslie, 1973). However, Miron
and Brehm (2006) state that reactance is more than merely a
change in attractiveness. It could also be measured by assessing
the subjective experience of a restricted person (see also Jonas
et al., 2009). There already are a few studies that demonstrate
that after being restricted one feels discomfort, hostility and
aggression toward the restricting person (Brehm, 1966; Brehm,
S. S. & Brehm, J. W., 1981; Wicklund, 1974). Studies also
found that reactance can be understood as a combination of
negative cognition and anger, which both become stronger as
the strength of the threat increases (Dillard & Shen, 2005;
Quick & Stephenson, 2007; Rains & Turner, 2007).
Furthermore, affective measures found that reactance is re-
lated to a spiteful, uninhibited, and active tone of voice (Sho-
ham-Salomon, Avner, & Neeman, 1989) and a rebellious, un-
cooperative, and furious behavior (Heilman & Toffler, 1976).
In many studies, these negative reactance behaviors, i.e. hostil-
ity, aggression and resistance toward the threatener (Gniech &
Grabitz, 1980), have already been demonstrated. Under strong
demand to help voluntarily, it is less likely that a person in
great need will be helped than a person in slight need (Jones,
1970; Schwartz, 1970), whereby the stronger the experienced
reactance, the less willing people are to help (Jonas et al., 2009).
Thus, receiving a favor can be perceived as reducing a person’s
freedom, and, due to reactance, reduce the likelihood of them
returning the favor (Brehm & Cole, 1966). Individuals with a
reactant trait tend to be aggressive, quarrelsome, hostile, anti-
social, dominant, and non-affiliative (Dowd & Wallbrown,
1993). They also tend to terminate a therapy prematurely and
show less global improvement after the therapy (Seibel &
Dowd, 1999).
Furthermore, threats to freedom in relationships can have
negative consequences and damage healthy family relationships.
After implicitly limiting a subject’s attention to attractive alter-
native partners, the subject not only shows increased attention
to images of attractive alternative partners, but also decreased
satisfaction with his or her current relationship. They also show
more positive attitudes toward infidelity (DeWall, Maner,
Deckman, & Rouby, 2011). Similarly, forcing a spouse to
abandon a bad habit, such as drinking can lead to reactance and
consequently to more drinking (Shoham, Trost, & Rohrbaugh,
Taken as a whole, these findings underline that reactance
cannot only lead to uncomfortable inner processes in the re-
stricted person but can also affect the relationship between the
threatened and the threatening person in a negative way by
increasing potential for conflict. Thinking back to the example
of Romeo and Juliet the most pressing question that one might
want to ask after seeing this play is whether this tragedy could
have been avoided and if so how this could have been achieved.
One of the promising strategies that has already led to posi-
tive effects in different domains is perspective taking. The two
youngsters could have put themselves into the position of their
families and thought about which respective inner processes
could have driven their parents to restrict the children’s free-
dom, thereby choosing a love relationship. This process pre-
cisely describes the purpose of perspective taking.
Perspective Taking
As Galinsky, Ku, and Wang (2005) so aptly put it, perspec-
tive taking is “…the process of imagining the world from an-
other’s vantage point or imagining oneself in another’s shoes”
(p. 110). Imagining the other’s perspective often seen as inter-
changeable with the term cognitive empathy is a cognitive or
intellectual process (Duan & Hill, 1996; Gladstein, 1983;
Parker & Axtell, 2001) whereby we see the world as the other
one does (Gladstein, 1983), recognizing the other’s experiences,
thoughts and feelings (Bachelor, 1988; Borke, 1973; Buckley,
Siegel, & Ness, 1979; Parker & Axtell, 2001). This form of
perspective taking can be distinguished from emotional or af-
fective empathy (Davis, 1994; Duan & Hill, 1996, Stephan &
Finlay, 1999), an affective process whereby a person is experi-
encing similar emotions to those of the other person (Bachelor,
1988; Gladstein, 1983; Stephan & Finlay, 1999) or is reacting
emotionally to the experiences of the other person (Stephan &
Finlay, 1999).
In previous research, taking the perspective of another person
has been found to support a positive relationship. Perspective
taking, for example, leads to positive attributions about the
target and to more cooperative behavior (Parker & Axtell,
2001). It inhibits interpersonal aggression (Richardson, Ham-
mock, Smith, Gardner, & Signo, 1994), and leads to easier
forgiveness of another’s offense (McCullough, Worthington, &
Rachal, 1997), as well as to the generation of successful solu-
tions in the negotiation process (Galinsky, Maddux, Gilin, &
White, 2008) or to reduced egocentric biases in fairness judg-
ments (Caruso, Epley, & Bazerman, 2006; Epley, Caruso, &
Bazerman, 2006). Perspective taking does not only lead to more
helping behavior (Batson, Early, & Salvarini, 1997; Batson,
Fultz, & Schoenrade, 1987; Davis, 1994; Hoffman, 2000; Stot-
land, 1969) but also plays an important role in building and
maintaining social bonds by improving favorable attitudes and
reducing prejudice toward stigmatized individuals and groups
(Batson, Polycarpou et al., 1997; Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000;
Vescio, Sechrist, & Paolucci, 2003). The link between perspec-
tive taking, decreased stereotyping and helping behavior seems
to be mediated by an increased merging between the mental
representations of the self and the mental representations of the
other (Cialdini, Brown, Lewis, Luce, & Neuberg, 1997; Ga-
linsky & Moskowitz, 2000). So that the observer sees more of
themselves in the target person (Davis, Conklin, Smith, & Luce,
1996; Galinsky et al., 2005; Smith, Coats, & Walling, 1999) but
also sees more of the target person in themselves (Galinsky et
al., 2005).
While there is evidence that perspective taking has the poten-
tial of bringing about positive consequences by reducing preju-
dice and stereotypes (Batson et al., 1997; Galinsky & Mosko-
witz, 2000; Vescio et al., 2003), it is not yet known whether
perspective taking will also reduce reactance. Remember the
tragic case of Romeo and Juliet, where reactance had such a
serious impact on the teenagers’ lives. The story progressed
from a mild case of rebellion (i.e. not following the advice of
their families) to conflicts with their families, and an emerging
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
war between the two clans, which lead to deep despair and
culminated in the tragic and premature end of the lovers’ lives.
But what might have happended if the two young lovers had
taken the perspective of their families, i.e. “If I were in my
mother’s situation I would also not allow my child to hang out
with a Montague”, “Can my parents bear to live a life without
me? Can I do such a thing to them?” or “My father loves me.
He only wants to protect me”. Is it conceivable that through
perspective taking reactance would have been reduced and as a
result the tragedy could have been avoided?
Thus, in the present research, we consider the possibility that
perspective taking is also an effective method to reduce reac-
tance and that it can therefore lead to a well-functioning rela-
tionship. More precisely, we speculate that looking at the situa-
tion, from the eyes of the threatener, and considering reasons
for their behavior, leads to a better understanding both of the
threat and the threatener and thus reduces reactance.
Perspective Taking in Individualistic and
Collectivistic Cultures
But what do we need to consider the other’s viewpoint? Is
perspective taking an ability that all human beings possess?
While it seems to be a common ability developing in all cul-
tures (Avis & Harris, 1991; Sabbagh, Xu, Carlson, Moses, &
Lee, 2006; Wu & Keysar, 2007), there is also evidence that
shows differences between individualistic and collectivistic cul-
tures concerning perspective taking. According to Hofstede
(1980, 2001), collectivists emphasize connectedness, similari-
ties and harmony within their group whereas individualists
want to be autonomous, distinct and independent from others.
Vorauer and Cameron (2002) found that collectivists not only
value perspective taking more highly than individualists, but
also show higher sensitivity to the negative emotions of others
and possess a better perspective taking disposition than indi-
vidualists do (Duan & Geen, as cited in Duan & Hill, 1996; Wu
& Keysar, 2007).The link between collectivists and their higher
perspective taking ability seems to be mediated by their strong
interdependent self-construal, which is defined in relationships
and commonalities with relevant others (Markus & Kitayama,
1991). On the contrary, the individualists’ strong independent
self-construal is defined by their own positive features that dis-
tinguish them from others (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Thus,
the collectivists’ higher amount of merging between self and
other (Aron, Aron, Tudor, & Nelson, 1991; Vorauer & Cam-
eron, 2002) could facilitate their perspective taking ability
(Vorauer & Cameron, 2002). These findings raise important
questions for the current study, such as whether the positive
effects of perspective taking might be limited to collectivists or
whether perspective taking might be an equally effective strat-
egy for both cultural groups. Furthermore, not only the ability
to take another’s perspective but also reactions to a threat seem
to be functions of certain cultures. A subject further investi-
gated by Jonas et al. (2009), who found that, while individual-
ists reacted to both a threat to their individual and a threat to
their collective freedoms, collectivists responded with stronger
reactance to threats to their collective freedom. Recent research
on vicarious reactance (Sittenthaler & Jonas, 2012; Sittenthaler,
Traut-Mattausch, & Jonas, 2012) revealed that individualists
experienced stronger reactance when they themselves were
restricted than when they observed another person being re-
stricted vicariously. Collectivists on the other hand showed
exactly the opposite pattern. In accordance with these findings
we assume culture to be an important and prevailing factor for
predicting reactance effects.
The Present Research
In the present article our main focus is on finding an inter-
vention method to reduce psychological reactance. According
to the studies that indicated positive effects of perspective tak-
ing (Batson et al., 1987, 1997; Batson, Polycarpou et al., 1997;
Caruso et al., 2006; Davis, 1994; Epley et al., 2006; Galinsky &
Moskowitz, 2000; Galinsky et al., 2008; Hoffman, 2000; Mc-
Cullough et al., 1997; Parker & Axtell, 2001; Richardson et al.,
1994; Stotland, 1969; Vescio et al., 2003), we expected indi-
vidualists (Austrian students) and collectivists (Filipino stu-
dents) (see Hofstede, 1980, 2001), who read a reactance-evo-
king scenario and then took the perspective of the threatener to
respond with less reactance than individualists and collectiv-
ists who only read a reactance-evoking scenario without per-
spective taking (hypothesis 1). In the reactance-evoking para-
digm, participants were asked to imagine being threatened in
their freedom to work as a waiter/waitress by the employer and
were afterwards, instructed to take the perspective of the em-
According to the findings from Jonas et al. (2009), Sitten-
thaler and Jonas (2012), and Sittenthaler et al. (2012), reactance
is a cross-cultural phenomenon. So we considered the cultural
background as a crucial determinant for predicting the extent of
aroused reactance. Therefore we tested whether people from a
collectivistic cultural background (the Philippines) reacted dif-
ferently to the threat and the perspective taking condition com-
pared to people from an individualistic cultural background
(Austria). Consequently, we expected individualists to respond
with stronger reactance to a self-experienced restriction than to
a vicarious restriction and collectivists to respond with stronger
reactance to a vicarious restriction than to a self-experienced
restriction (hypothesis 2).
Moreover, although there is evidence that collectivists might
possess better perspective taking abilities than individualists
(Duan & Geen, as cited in Duan & Hill, 1996; Wu & Keysar,
2007), we wanted to reduce reactance in both cultures. This
allowed us to explore whether perspective taking is a useful
strategy for both individualists and collectivists.
Previous research on reactance theory mostly focused on the
increasing attractiveness of a threatened freedom. However, we
chose to further investigate the intended reactance behavior
because it is an important part of reactance theory. Therefore,
we measured reactance behavior based on the scales developed
by Jonas et al. (2009).
Pilot Study
In a pilot study we tested whether our reactance scenario
really evoked reactance. For this purpose 37 students from the
University of Salzburg were asked to read a reactance-evoking
scenario. In the self-experienced restriction they were asked to
imagine that they were students from the University of Salz-
burg who had decided to look for a part-time job in a coffee
house. They called the employer, who explained what their
duties as a temporary employee would be and invited them to a
job interview. When they told the employer that they were stu-
dents the employer interrupted them and said: “No, I do not
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1155
employ any students in my coffee house!” and hung up. In the
vicarious restriction for an ingroup-member they were asked to
imagine the same scenario had happened to their best friend. In
the vicarious restriction for an outgroup-member they were
asked to imagine the same scenario had happened to a student
of the other nationality (Austrian vs Filipino). Fifty-three stu-
dents were asked to read a neutral version of the scenario,
which was exactly the same scenario but, instead of the reac-
tance-evoking sentence at the end the employer said: “Yes, I
like to employ students in my coffee house!” The one-way
ANOVA on people’s reactance behavior, based on the items
from Jonas et al. (2009) (4 items, α = .84; “How much would
you try to describe this man as incompetent to other students?”,
“How much would you advise other students against this em-
ployer?”, “Would you like to severely criticize the boss in a
daily newspaper?”, “How much would you like to ruin the em-
ployer’s reputation by publishing a negative review on a re-
spective Internet site?”) revealed a significant main effect for
the scenario version, F(1, 88) = 25.64, p < .001; η² = .23, indi-
cating that participants, who read the reactance-evoking version,
showed more reactance behavior (M = 2.70, SD = 0.89) than
participants who read the neutral version (M = 1.74, SD = 0.88).
Taking into account the results of this pilot study we decided to
use the afore mentioned scenario to arouse reactance in the
Participants and Design
Participants were 263 Austrian students from the University
of Salzburg and 203 Filipino students from different universi-
ties of the Philippines. The experiment was based on a 2 (cul-
tural group: Austrians vs. Filipinos) × 2 (restriction: self- ex-
perienced vs vicarious1) × 2 (perspective taking: without vs.
with) factorial between subjects design and participants were
randomly assigned to one of the conditions. Of the 466 partici-
pants, 72 (15.45%) indicated that they could not empathize with
the given scenario or considered it unrealistic. Thus, they were
excluded from the analyses. The final sample consisted of 196
Austrian and 198 Filipino students (74.4% female) with a mean
age of M = 21.75 years (SD = 3.19). The dependent variable
was reactance behavior, which was measured using 4 items of
an on-line questionnaire.
The on-line questionnaire was randomly distributed via
e-mail to students from the University of Salzburg and via the
internet platform “MySpace” to students from different univer-
sities in the Philippines. Of the 1080 persons who started the
questionnaire, 466 completed it (recovery rate: 43.15%). After
some general information about the study and some personal
information, the questionnaire asked participants to picture
themselves into the reactance-evoking scenario.
Austrians and Filipinos were either asked to imagine the
scenario for themselves (self-experienced restriction, n = 130),
for their best friend (vicarious restriction in-group, n = 126) or
for a student of the other nationality (vicarious restriction out-
group, n = 138). After the scenario one group of participants
(with perspective taking, n = 194) was instructed to take the
perspective of the threatener, i.e., the employer of the coffee
house and was asked to write down what they would have felt
and thought if they were in his position. The other group did
not receive any perspective taking instructions (without per-
spective taking, n = 200).
After participants had read the scenario, we assessed their
reactance behavior with the same 4 items as in the pilot study
(α = .69).
Furthermore, to check for the participants’ cultural orienta-
tion we assessed their independent (e.g. “I often do my own
thing”, α = .77; 16 items) and interdependent self-construal (e.g.
“The well being of my colleagues is important to me”, α = .81;
16 items) with the horizontal and vertical individualism and
collectivism scale (Singelis, Triandis, Bhawuk, & Gelfand,
1995; Triandis & Gelfand, 1998). Participants responded to the
questions on a scale from 1 = “I do not agree at all” to 5 = “I
absolutely agree”. We calculated the difference score, with
higher scores indicating a more interdependent self-construal.
The one-way ANOVA of people’s cultural orientation revealed
a significant main effect for the cultural group, F(1, 392) = 5.17,
p = .024; η² = .01, indicating that Filipinos showed a higher
interdependent self-construal (M = 0.41, SD = 0.53) than Aus-
trians (M = 0.26, SD = 0.70). Therefore we could assume Fili-
pinos to be more collectivistic than Austrians.
Furthermore, the questionnaire asked participants to indicate
how well they could empathize with and how realistic they
considered the scenario. At the end of the survey participants
were thanked for their participation, debriefed and given the
chance to write an e-mail if they were interested in the purpose
of the study.
To test our hypotheses, we conducted a 2 (cultural group:
Austrians vs Filipinos) × 2 (restriction: self-experienced vs
vicarious2) × 2 (perspective taking: without vs with) analysis of
variance on reactance behavior.
Perspective Taking
As expected, the analysis revealed a main effect for perspec-
2To explore whether there were any differences for Filipinos and Austrians
between participants who read about a self-experienced restriction, a vi-
carious restriction of an ingroup-member or a vicarious restriction of an
outgroup-member, we performed a 2 (cultural group: Austrians vs Philipi-
noes) × 3 (restriction: self-experienced vs vicarious ingroup vs vicarious
outgroup) × 2 (perspective taking: without vs with) analysis of variance on
reactance behavior. We found a significant interaction between cultural
group and restriction F(2, 382) = 3.91, p = .021, η² = .02. Simple effects
analyses indicated that within the group of the Austrians, participants
showed stronger self-experienced reactance (M = 3.12, SD= 1.11) than
vicarious reactance when an outgroup-member was threatened (M= 2.75,
SD = 1.11), p = .018, but not when an ingroup-member was threatened (M=
2.88, SD = 1.11), p= .139. Within the group of the Filipinos, participants
tended to show a marginal significant weaker self-experienced reactance (
= 2.72, SD = 1.11) than vicarious reactance for an ingroup-member (M=
2.96, SD = 1.11), p = .113, but about the same amount of vicarious reac-
tance for an out
= 2.92, SD = 1.11
= .185.
1Initially we differentiated between a vicarious restriction of an ingroup-
member and a vicarious restriction of an outgroup-member. The results for
these analyses are reported in footnote 2. However, these results should be
treated with care because not only the imagined ingroup-member
ut even the
imagined outgroup-mem
er belonged to the group of students which can be
seen as an ingroup. For this reason and because the in- and outgroup is not the
main topic of this paper, we combined in- and outgroup to one variable.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
tive taking, F(1, 386) = 13.02, p < .001, η2 = .033, indicating
that participants who took the perspective of the threatener
showed less reactance behavior (M = 2.70, SD = 0.89) than
participants who did not take it (M = 3.08, SD = 0.90). This
supports hypothesis 1, which proposed that perspective taking
with the threatener reduces reactance behavior. However, the
analyses did not reveal an interaction between perspective tak-
ing and cultural group, F(1, 386) < 1, p = .964, η2 < 0.001. Thus,
it seems that perspective taking is an equally effective method
for reducing reactance behavior in both individualistic and col-
lectivistic cultures. Furthermore, the interaction between re-
striction and perspective taking did not show a significant result,
F(1, 386) = 1.72, p = 0.191, η2 < 0.01, underlining that perspec-
tive taking seems to be a generalizable and independently
working process. The three-way interaction between cultural
group, restriction and perspective taking was not significant
either, F(1, 386) < 1, p = 0.786, η2 < 0.001.
Vicarious Reactance
Furthermore, mostly in accordance with hypothesis 2 and
with the results from Sittenthaler and Jonas (2012) and Sitten-
thaler et al. (2012), the interaction between restriction and cul-
tural group was significant, F(1, 386) = 7.67, p = 0.006, η2 =
0.02. To understand the nature of this interaction we conducted
simple effects analyses, which further indicated that within the
group of the Austrians, participants showed stronger self-
experienced reactance behavior (M = 3.12, SD = 0.92) than
vicarious reactance behavior (M = 2.82, SD = 0.93), p = 0.026.
However, within the group of the Filipinos participants showed
marginally significant stronger vicarious reactance behavior (M
= 2.95, SD = 0.91) than self-experienced reactance behavior (M
= 2.72, SD = 0.88), p =.095. Looked at differently, Austrians
showed more self-experienced reactance (M = 3.12, SD = 0.92)
than Filipinos did (M = 2.72, SD = 0.88), p = 0.011. But with
regard to vicarious reactance, Austrians (M = 2.82, SD = 0.93)
did not differ from Filipinos (M = 2.95, SD = 0.91), p = 0.703,
p = 0.243. These results are in accordance with hypothesis 2
and the results from Sittenthaler and Jonas (2012) and Sitten-
thaler et al. (2012), who found that people from an individualis-
tic cultural background were more sensitive to a self-experi-
enced restriction of freedom than people from a collectivistic
cultural background, and thus reacted differently to restrictions.
All means and standard deviations are displayed in Table 1
and illustrated in Figure 1.
In the current paper we were interested in finding an inter-
vention method to reduce the amount of reactance in two dif-
ferent cultures. In addition, we aimed to show that reactance is
a cross-cultural phenomenon, with varying amount of reactance,
depending on the kind of restriction.
Our study indicated that participants who took the perspec-
tive of the threatener, after a reactance-evoking scenario,
showed less reactance behavior than participants who did not
take it. This finding suggests that imagining the world from
another’s point of view (Galinsky et al., 2005), i.e., looking at
the situation from the eyes of the threatener could be an effec-
tive intervention method to reduce reactance. Just as previous
research has already shown that perspective taking can reduce
prejudices and stereotyping (Batson et al., 1997; Galinsky &
Table 1.
Means and standard deviations for reactance behavior depending on the
experimental manipulation: Self-experienced and vicarious restriction
without and with perspective taking for Austrians and Filipinos.
Austriansa Filipinosa
Without With Without With
Restriction M SDM SD M SD M SD
Self-experienced3.24 0.94 2.99 0.89 2.81 0.83 2.62 0.93
(n = 32) (n = 32) (n = 33) (n = 33)
Vicarious 3.04 0.93 2.59 0.87 3.19 0.88 2.70 0.87
(n = 67) (n = 65) (n = 68) (n = 64)
Note: aRatings were made on a 5-point scale with higher values indicating
stronger reactance behavior.
reactance behavio
self-experienced vicarious self-experienced vicarious
Austrians Filipinos
Figure 1.
Reactance behavior in the self-experienced and vicarious restriction
without and with perspective taking for Austrians and Filipinos. Per-
spective taking: p < .001; Restriction*cultural group: p = .006; *p < .05,
(*)p < 1.
Moskowitz, 2000; Vescio et al., 2003), we were able to show
that perspective taking can also reduce feelings of reactance.
Thus, perspective taking, which enables us to understand the
other person (Bachelor, 1988; Borke, 1973; Buckley et al.,
1979; Parker & Axtell, 2001), seems to be an important strat-
egy for the way one handles threats to freedom. In addition, we
wanted to find an intervention method that was valid for eve-
ryone, independent of people’s cultural background. We there-
fore explored whether perspective taking is a useful strategy for
individualists and collectivists. Although studies assume that
collectivists might be better perspective-takers than individual-
ists (Duan & Geen, as cited in Duan & Hill, 1996; Wu & Key-
sar, 2007), we found that perspective taking reduced reactance
to an equal amount in both groups. Thus, it seems that imagin-
ing the threatening situation from the eyes of the threatener
constitutes a common ability as well as an efficient method for
reducing reactance behavior, regardless of one’s individualistic
or collectivistic background.
Moreover we found further evidence for cross-cultural dif-
ferences in the experience of reactance. In line with the findings
of Sittenthaler and Jonas (2012) and Sittenthaler et al. (2012)
our results suggest that individualists show more reactance
behavior after reading about a self-restriction than after reading
about a vicarious restriction, and additionally show more self-
experienced reactance behavior than collectivists.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1157
Nevertheless our findings should be treated with caution be-
cause we used a hypothetical scenario to evoke reactance in this
study. However, the reactance scenario has been validated in
other studies (e.g. Sittenthaler, Jonas, & Traut-Mattausch,
2012), in which an immediate increase in heart rate was meas-
ured after a restriction to freedom. Furthermore, other studies
(Graupmann, Jonas, Meier, Hawelka, & Aichhorn, 2012) that
used real restrictions found similar reactance effects.
Another limitation of our results is the composition of our
sample, which solely consisted of students. A further study, for
example with employees from different cultural groups, is nec-
essary in order to replicate our findings.
Theoretical and Practical Implications
Even though much research has demonstrated the serious,
negative impacts of psychological reactance (Brehm & Cole,
1966; DeWall et al., 2011; Dillard & Shen, 2005; Gniech &
Grabitz, 1980; Heilman & Toffler, 1976; Jonas et al., 2009;
Jones, 1970; Quick & Stephenson, 2007; Rains & Turner, 2007;
Schwartz, 1970; Shoham et al., 2004), it is even more surpris-
ing that an intervention method to avoid these negative impacts
has not yet been attempted. Our paper gives rise to a new con-
sideration, which starts from the point that threats are often
unavoidable and the arousing reactance could therefore imply
serious, negative consequences. Perspective taking seems to be
one way of reducing reactance and thus a way of reducing the
negative consequences caused by it. Furthermore it seems to
support a positive relationship between the threatening and the
threatened person.
Nevertheless, further research is needed in order to clarify
the processes underlying perspective taking to reduce reactance.
What is going on in an individual’s mind when this person is
taking the perspective of the threatener? One possibility might
be that the intervention of perspective taking leads to forgiving
the threatener and therefore reduces reactance. There is evi-
dence that shows a correlation between perspective taking and
forgiveness (Konstam, Chernoff, & Deveney, 2001). Thus,
individuals who scored high in their perspective taking ability
also scored high in their ability to forgive. So on the one hand it
could be the case that people with a high forgiveness ability can
take the perspective of the threatener better than people with a
low forgiveness ability and that this is why their amount of
reduced reactance is higher. On the other hand perspective tak-
ing could also function as a process of forgiving.
This study gives rise to a lot of new, important questions
concerning the avoidance or reduction of reactance in order to
support a positive relationship. But perspective taking might
not only affect the relationship between the threatener and the
victim but also the relationship between the victim and its own
future victims of freedom threats. Thus, one positive cones-
quence of taking the perspective of the threatener might also be
that the victim might threaten others to a lesser extent, in the
future, because they have experienced what it feels like to be
threatened and to experience reactance.
In our everyday lives, we experience restrictions of our be-
havioral freedom. For example, employees are not allowed to
choose between options but are forced to carry out certain tasks
at a certain time. Managers must follow the instructions of their
superiors without being able to do “their own thing”. The re-
sulting reactance often leads to resistance toward the threatener
and negative consequences, such as negative working atmos-
phere, loss of motivation, decreasing productivity or possibly
even to mob behavior. To prevent these events, information
about the phenomenon of reactance, and about perspective
taking as an intervention aimed at avoiding reactance could be
an important step in the right direction. Trying to understand
one’s threatener could therefore not only reduce reactance and
negative consequences but further lead to a peaceful and har-
monious living together.
Human beings are often faced with the conflict between the
right to freedom on one hand and unavoidable threats to these
freedoms on the other hand. This is the case in cooperating
teams, in which some people have to be subordinate and obe-
dient, and may experience psychological reactance as a result.
Our research introduces an effective intervention method of
reducing reactance and of avoiding further negative cones-
quences. An understanding of one’s reasons for a certain be-
havior could allow us to peacefully live side by side and pre-
vent conflict-ridden relationships. Thus, considering the situa-
tion from the other’s point of view might be desirable and ex-
pedient. Furthermore it seems conceivable that there might be
even more and stronger restrictions in locations where people
with different cultural backgrounds live and work together.
With the knowledge of reactance as a cross-cultural phenome-
non, cultural differences must be considered in order to inter-
vene and to overcome restrictions.
The first author of this article was financially supported by
the Doctoral College “Imaging the Mind” of the Austrian Sci-
ence Fund (FWF-W1233).
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