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Psychological Reactance and Promotional Health Messages: The Effects of Controlling Language, Lexical Concreteness, and the Restoration of Freedom


  • An earlier draft of this paper was presented to the Communication and Social Cognition Division of the National Communication Association at the 2006 convention in San Antonio, TX.

Claude H. Miller; e-mail:


Recent social influence research utilizing psychological reactance theory (J. W. Brehm, 1966) has focused on how reactance motivates message rejection due to threats to perceived freedoms posed by controlling language. Although reactance has been shown to increase message rejection and source derogation, persuasive appeals employing alternative forms of restoration of freedom, as suggested by the theory, have received little if any empirical scrutiny. The present study manipulated the levels of controlling language and lexical concreteness within health messages targeting a young adult population. Results show a number of negative outcomes associated with the use of controlling language but suggest more positive outcomes associated with the use of restoration postscripts. Findings also indicate that relative to abstract language, messages using concrete language receive more attention, are viewed as more important, and generate more positive assessments of the source.