Personality characteristics associated with psychological reactance

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<ul><li><p>D I S S E R T A T I O N I N B R I E F</p><p>Personality Characteristics Associatedwith Psychological Reactance</p><p>Cynthia A. SeibelPortage Path Behavioral Health, Akron, Ohio</p><p>E. Thomas DowdKent State University</p><p>This study compared six different personality disorders on level of psycho-logical reactance. Eighty clients met criteria for inclusion in one of sixpersonality disorder groups, including passive-aggressive, dependent, per-sonality disorder NOS (not otherwise specified), no personality disorder,obsessive-compulsive, and borderline. Instruments included the Therapeu-tic Reactance Scale (TRS) and the Questionnaire for the Measurement ofPsychological Reactance (QMPR). Four one-way analyses of variance (ANO-VAs) were conducted on the scales and subscales of the two reactancemeasures. All four ANOVAs were significant, although post hoc tests indi-cated significant differences only among the more extreme groups. Thepersonality disorders were generally ordered on reactance level accordingto predictions derived from the theory of separation-individuation. 2001John Wiley &amp; Sons, Inc. J Clin Psychol 57: 963969, 2001.</p><p>Keywords: personality; reactance; development</p><p>Client resistance to psychotherapeutic assistance has both intrigued and baffled psychol-ogists since the days of Sigmund Freud. It may seem perverse that individuals shouldresist the efforts of the professionals they have sought out to help them overcome theiremotional distressoften while insisting that they are highly motivated to change.</p><p>The very nature of resistance to change has been the source of much discussion.Psychodynamic theories have traditionally assumed that resistance is a response to the</p><p>This article is based on a dissertation conducted by the first author under the direction of the second author.Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: E. Thomas Dowd, Department of Psychology,118 Kent Hall, Kent, OH 44242.</p><p>JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY, Vol. 57(7), 963969 (2001) 2001 John Wiley &amp; Sons, Inc.</p></li><li><p>threatened lifting of psychic repression and must be worked through for therapeuticchange to occur. Cognitivebehavioral theories of psychological change (Meichenbaum&amp; Gilmore, 1984), by contrast, generally espouse the position that resistance is a naturalpart of the change process and should be worked with rather than opposed. Cognitivedevelopmentalists (e.g., Mahoney, 1991) argue that resistance is healthy in that it protectsthe core cognitive schemata from overwhelming assault and in the process protects theindividuals sense of personal identity and meaning. Regardless of its nature and origin,resistance is a necessary fact of all therapies, and strategies must be developed for han-dling it as it arises.</p><p>Much of the literature on resistance tacitly assumes that the expression of resistanceis situation-specific, that is, it occurs in response to a particular schema-disconfirmingevent, in which the meaning of that event cannot be comfortably fitted into the individu-als existing meaning structure. However, research is now beginning to accumulate indi-cating that individuals vary considerably in the extent to which they are likely to exhibitresistance to psychotherapeutic change or indeed any kind of cognitive or behavioralchange. Much of this research has been done by Dowd and colleagues (e.g., Dowd, 1999)using the theory of psychological reactance developed by Jack Brehm (Brehm, 1966;Brehm &amp; Brehm, 1981) as an organizing framework.</p><p>The theory of psychological reactance proposes that reactance is a motivational forcethat is aroused when perceived behavioral freedoms are eliminated or threatened withelimination. This motivational force is directed towards the restoration of those freedomsand can be expressed in a variety of direct or indirect ways. Reactance refers to controlmotivation rather than to achievement motivation (Brehm, 1993) and may arise frompowerful core assumptions of the necessity of personal and social control, hypothesizedto be especially strong in the individualistic cultures of North America and WesternEurope (Dowd, 1989). Indeed, Dowd (1976) argued that this control motivation is sostrong that if people cannot establish control in a creative and positive fashion, they willdo so in destructive ways.</p><p>Originally, psychological reactance was considered to be a function of the situationrather than a function of the individual. However, recent investigations have demon-strated individual differences in the tendency to exhibit psychological reactance. Dowd,Milne, and Wise (1991) and Merz (1983) independently developed self-report measuresof reactance and found them to be reliable, valid, and normally distributed in the population.</p><p>Several studies then were conducted to relate reactance to other psychological vari-ables. Dowd and Wallbrown (1993) and Dowd, Wallbrown, Sanders, and Yesenosky (1994)regressed these two reactance measures on two motivation and personality measures andfound reactance to be significantly and positively associated with such variables as dom-inance, independence, autonomy, denial, self-sufficiency, lack of tolerance, and lack ofconformity. Huck (1998) found reactance to be negatively associated with dependent,avoidant, and histrionic personality styles and positively associated with paranoid, border-line, and sadistic personality styles. Mallon (1992) found reactance to be associated withseveral antisocial behaviors while Morgan (1986) found it to be associated with no-showbehavior in therapy, with less improvement in therapy, and with length of treatment.</p><p>Reactance also has been shown to be related to developmental aspects of humanfunctioning. Seibel and Dowd (1994) found that reactance was related to autonomy andinterpersonal isolation. Pepper (1996) likewise found that reactance was related to auton-omy and lack of intimacy, and that behavioral reactance was associated with a negativeresolution of developmental stages whereas verbal reactance was related to a positiveresolution of developmental stages. Reactance also was associated with a negative reso-lution of Stage 1 (trust versus mistrust) and a positive resolution of Stage 2 (autonomy</p><p>964 Journal of Clinical Psychology, July 2001</p></li><li><p>versus shame and doubt). However, although reactance was linearly related to autonomyin both studies, it was not curvilinearly related to identity, as had been hypothesized byDowd (1993).</p><p>Reactance also has been investigated in therapy situations. Seibel and Dowd (1999)found reactance to be associated with distancing behaviors in therapy (labeled boundaryaugmentation) although not with a positive orientation to therapy (labeled collaborativerelationship) nor with disengagement from therapy (labeled behavioral disengagement).</p><p>In summary, psychological reactance has been shown to be related in theoreticallyexpected ways to a host of other individual difference variables. However, studies havenot been conducted on the relationship of reactance to psychopathology.</p><p>Especially in North American and Western European societies, there appears to be anemphasis on the development of a strong sense of identity. In object relations theory,identity has been posited as the product of the separation-individuation process (e.g.,Mahler, 1971). The concept of separation refers to the infants differentiation from themother while individuation refers to the development of intrapsychic autonomy. Theseevents are thought to occur between the 5th and 36th months of life and correspond toEricksons first two stages of development, trust versus mistrust and autonomy versusshame and doubt. The separation-individuation process is thought to continue through-out the life cycle, but the described core events are the basis for the childs capacity tobegin to develop an individual identity (Christenson &amp; Wilson, 1985, p. 561).</p><p>In order to develop more fully the psychological profile of the reactant person and toplace reactance within the framework of separation-individuation theory, this study wasconducted. Clients who were diagnosed with different personality disorders were com-pared on psychological reactance to determine if there were significant differences amongthe disorders. In doing so, theoretically expected differences based on separation-individuation theory were tested. According to this theory, it was expected that a trendwould emerge, with the passive-aggressive and dependent personality groups showingthe lowest reactance, the personality disorder NOS and the No Axis II diagnosis groupsshowing moderate reactance, and the obsessive-compulsive and borderline personalitygroups showing the highest reactance. The passive-aggressive and dependent personalitydisorders represent a fear of separation and abandonment while the obsessive-compulsivepersonality disorder signifies a need for autonomy and fear of engulfment. The borderlinepersonality disorder is thought to be characterized by vacillation between fear of separa-tion and fear of engulfment; however, the stormy oppositionalism of the borderline per-sonality is a hallmark symptom, and it was therefore predicted that clients in this groupwould exhibit higher measured reactance. It was hypothesized that the passive-aggressiveand dependent personality-disordered groups would exhibit the lowest reactance and,congruent with a fear of engulfment, the obsessive-compulsive and borderline personality-disordered groups would exhibit the highest reactance. The personality disorder NOSwas hypothesized to score in the moderate range.</p><p>Method</p><p>Participants</p><p>The participants were 90 adult psychotherapy clients recruited indirectly through theirtherapists and mental health facilities (59%), private practices (22%), university coun-seling centers (9%), incarcerated substance abuse clients (7%), and other settings (3%) inOhio and Pennsylvania. They ranged in age from 21 to 60, with 91% being Caucasian and61% being married either currently or in the past. They were relatively well-educated,</p><p>Personality and Reactance 965</p></li><li><p>with a mean of 13.7 years of completed education. Sixty-seven percent were female and33% were male.</p><p>Participants were divided into six groups representing Axis II personality disordersor clinically significant features of each personality disorder, including passive-aggressive, dependent, personality disorder NOS (not otherwise specified), no personal-ity disorder, obsessive-compulsive, and borderline. Because there were not enoughparticipants who met complete criteria for diagnosis with a personality disorder, someparticipants were included who had only clinically significant features of a personalitydisorder. These diagnoses were made at intake assessment for the personality-disorderedgroup and by the treating therapist for those participants identified as possessing clini-cally significant features of a personality disorder. Eighty participants met these criteria.</p><p>Instruments</p><p>The Therapeutic Reactance Scale (TRS; Dowd et al., 1991) and the Fragebogen zurMessung der psychologischen Reactanz (Questionnaire for the Measurement of Psycho-logical Reactance, [QMPR]; Merz, 1983) were used. Following Brehms (1966, 1981)theory of psychological reactance, they were designed to measure the motivational forceto restore lost or threatened freedoms. The TRS consists of a total score as well as verbalreactance and behavioral reactance subscores. The verbal reactance subscale consists ofitems that reflect a verbal oppositional style (e.g., argumentativeness). The behavioralreactance subscale consists of items that reflect a behavioral oppositional style (e.g.,doing the opposite of that asked). An example of the former is, I find that I often haveto question authority. An example of the latter is, I enjoy seeing someone doing some-thing that neither one of us is supposed to do.</p><p>The QMPR consists of a total score only, derived from factor analysis, and wastranslated from the original German by Dowd and colleagues. Despite its one-factorstructure, it appears to consist of both verbal and behavioral oppositional-type state-ments. An example is, Suggestions and advice often make me want to do the opposite;and, I strongly resist peoples attempts to influence me. The measures have been foundto be reliable and valid (Dowd et al., 1991; Dowd &amp; Wallbrown, 1993; Dowd et al., 1994;Mallon, 1992).</p><p>Results</p><p>Four one-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were conducted, with the six Axis IIcategories as the independent variable and the four reactance scores (TRS-Total, TRS-Verbal, TRS-Behavioral, QMPR) as the dependent variables. All four were significant,supporting the hypothesis that reactance differs by personality disorder. These results areshown in Table 1. The ANOVA was significant for the QMPR (F 5 5.77, p , .001), butthe predicted trend did not materialize. Examination of Table 1 indicates that the No AxisII diagnosis group had a low QMPR score, second only to the passive-aggressive group.Mean scores of the remaining diagnostic groups followed the expected trend, with theobsessive-compulsive and borderline personality groups scoring highest. Post hoc testsindicated that the borderline group was significantly different from the passive-aggressive and no diagnosis groups and that the obsessive-compulsive and personalitydisorder NOS also were significantly different from the passive-aggressive group. Noother differences were significant.</p><p>The ANOVA for the TRS-Total also was significant (F 5 3.89, p , .01). The groupmeans exhibited a trend exactly as predicted. Post hoc tests showed that the borderline,</p><p>966 Journal of Clinical Psychology, July 2001</p></li><li><p>obsessive-compulsive, and no diagnosis groups were statistically different from the passive-aggressive group. No other differences were statistically significant.</p><p>The ANOVA for the TRS-Behavioral also was significant (F 5 3.63, p , .01), withthe ordering almost exactly as predicted. However, post hoc tests indicated that only theborderline and passive-aggressive groups were significantly different from each other.</p><p>The ANOVA for the TRS-Verbal also was significant (F 5 2.71, p , . 05). However,here the obsessive-compulsive group scored the highest followed by the borderline per-sonality group. The passive-aggressive and dependent groups exhibited the lowest means,with the personality disorder NOS and the no diagnosis groups in the middle. Thus, thetrend was not quite as predicted. Post hoc tests showed that the obsessive-compulsivegroup differed significantly from the passive-aggressive and from the dependent groups.No other group differences were significant.</p><p>Discussion</p><p>It was predicted that personality disorders related to fear of separation would correspondto low reactance and that personality disorders related to fear of engulfment (or vacilla-tion between fear of separation and fear of engulfment) would correspond to high reac-tance. Individuals without a diagnosis of personality disorder were expected to score inthe moderate range on reactance, indicating a balance between separ...</p></li></ul>

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