How the comforting process fails: Psychological reactance to support messages

Xi Tian*, Denise Haunani Solomon, Kellie St.Cyr Brisini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


This study extends the theory of psychological reactance to the context of social support by examining how supportive communication is associated with psychological reactance and subsequent support outcomes. The final sample included 325 married adults who had experienced a marital disagreement, and were asked to evaluate a hypothetical support message that varied in the level of person-centeredness provided by a social network member. The results indicated that perceptions of support messages as conveying dominance and having weak argument quality were positively associated with psychological reactance. Low person-centered messages corresponded with more dominance and weaker argument quality. Low person-centered messages were associated with more psychological reactance through an indirect effect conveyed by a perceived threat to freedom. There was a significant, indirect effect between person-centeredness and emotional improvement conveyed by a perceived threat to freedom and psychological reactance. The discussion highlights the role of psychological reactance in social support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13–34
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020

User-Defined Keywords

  • Person-Centered Support
  • Psychological Reactance
  • Message Characteristics
  • Emotional Improvement


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