Psychological reactance among alcoholics in treatment



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Texas Tech University


Psychological reactance is a form of negativism (or resistance) in the presence of perceived threat to one's freedom to perform a specific behavior or hold a specific attitude. The purpose of this study is to extend the theory of reactance to a clinical setting by considering reactance to be a potentially important variable in the treatment of alcoholism. Reactance to a treatment message that threatened freedom to drink and prior demonstration of such freedom were examined in an alcoholic population. Subjects were 112 male military personnel undergoing a 6-week inpatient alcoholism treatment program at the Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland, and assigned randomly to one of four experimental conditions (n = 28). The experimental design was a 2 (Threat/No-Threat) x 2 (Prior- Demons t rat ion/No Prior-Demonstration) Completely Randomized Factorial.

In order to facilitate this study, the Psychological Reactivity Scale (PRS) was developed to investigate individual differences in manifested reactance. Other instruments included four well-established personality scales, two essay blanks differing in prior-demonstration potential, two short paragraphs differing in level of threat, a 12-point Likert rating scale measuring degree of reactance, and a counselor rating form. Procedures involved administering the PRS and the four personality scales on Day One, with all manipulations occurring on Day Two. Alcoholism counselors rated each subject along five dimensions of treatment on Day Three.

The major finding of the present study is the significant correlations between reactivity (assessed by the PRS) and related personality constructs. All correlations ranged between absolute values .27 and .33 (£S < .01). A personality profile of the highly reactive individual is described with reference to these related constructs. Suggestions to improve the validity of the PRS are discussed, with special attention to refining its psychometric basis.

Results of analyses of variance failed to support the major hypotheses that alcoholics react to treatment demands that threaten drinking behavior, and that a prior demonstration of attitudinal freedom to drink can attenuate this reactance. Possible explanations for these negative results are discussed, along with suggestions for future research that would circumvent the limitations inherent in this study.