Psychological Reactance as a Factor in Patient Noncompliance With Medication Taking: A Field Experiment1


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    Jeanne S. Fogarty is currently a medical consultant in private practice. At the time this study was conducted, she was a graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, North Dakota State University, and her master's thesis formed the basis for this article. The authors wish to express their appreciation to the physicians and patients whose willing participation made this study possible.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jeanne S. Fogarty, P. O. Box 731315, Ormond Beach, FL 32173-1315. e-mail:


Patient noncompliance with medical recommendations is widespread. The theory of psychological reactance sheds light on the subject. Reactance theory posits that when an individual discems a threat to a valued freedom, a motivational state compels the individual to reassert that freedom. The present study sought evidence of reactance in the compliance behaviors of 101 patients. Participants were exposed to either an authoritative-oriented or a partnership-oriented advice-giving tone, coupled with either an opportumity for the participant to select certain features of the regimen or no opportunity to do so. While neither manipulation produced the anticipated causal results, both quantitative and qualitative correlational data clearly revealed a connection between reactance and noncompliance. The investigators report findings and make suggestions for further research.