There have been vast amounts of research into resisting the various social influences that bombard us in our everyday lives. I intend to explore different perspectives and studies regarding resistance, and try to interpret what they tell us about why people do resist in certain circumstances and not in others. There has been a lot of research conducted into resistance but the vast majority of this research centres around three factors. When these factors are relevant it seems our ability to resist is increased. The first of these factors is called Reactance.
This as the name suggests is a reaction to some kind of stimuli. The best way to describe reactance in this context is how Baron & Byrne defined it as ‘Negative reaction to threats to one’s personal freedom. Reactance often increases resistance to persuasion’ (Baron ; Byrne, 2003: 574). Basically what they meant was that when someone goes out of their way to change your viewpoint, the two opinions get polarised and you will become more stubborn in not changing your mind. This effect has been labelled as a negative attitude change (Brehm, 1966 cited in Baron ; Byrne 2003).
Psychologist have adapted this technique for various uses, within applied Psychology. One example in clinical Psychology is asking patients to enact or behave in the manner which requires eliminating. With clients that are resisting the efforts of the Psychologist by asking them to adopt this behaviour they are likely to do the opposite. However reactance’s most frequent use with children and adolescents to warn them of the consequences of, for example, underage drinking or smoking. By showing children the negative effects of these acts hopefully they will react by deciding not to drink or smoke.
Wicklund drew up this list while summarising Brehm’s theory of reactance. He went on to propose a “hydraulic principle” which compares reactance and water under pressure, blocked in one direction, only to burst out in another: “When a freedom cannot be regained directly the motivation resulting from that freedom will push over into a second freedom. ” (“Freedom and Reactance”, R. A. Wicklund, 1974, pp10-11, 86. ) He believed that reactance would only result in violence if we feel hostility towards the person threatening our freedom.
One of the most shocking theories behind reactance is that many who have studied it believe in extreme circumstances it can escalate into social rebellion. The second factor is called Forewarning. Again as the name implies, forewarning is knowing in advance that someone is going to try persuade you. The main reason that this often increases resistance to persuasion is that you are given time to construct counter arguments (Wood, 1982 cited in Baron ; Byrne, 2003). This effect seems to get stronger depending on how important we consider the belief being challenged. Forewarning is sometimes known as the ‘inoculation effect’.
Inoculation refers to the practice of giving medical injections to protect an individual from various diseases and ailments. Interestingly ‘inoculation’ involves injecting the individual with a weak dose of the disease which their immune system fights off, then becomes stronger and can fight off a larger dose some at any time after. The point relevant here to the persuasion technique is ‘weak dosage’ too strong would overwhelm the immune system and make the person ill. But a small dosage serves to make the person stronger. The inoculation effect in psychology is similar.
If we want to strengthen existing attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours, inoculation theory suggests that we should present a weak attack on those attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours. Again, the key word here is, ‘weak. ‘ If the attack is too strong, it will cause the attitude, belief, or behaviour to get weaker or even move to the opposite position. The attack has to be strong enough to challenge the defences of the individual without overwhelming them. The paradox with Forewarning or the inoculation effect is that challenging someone’s opinions can simply make their beliefs stronger. The third factor is called Selective Avoidance.
This is the simplest of the three. Selective Avoidance refers to the fact that we divert attention from aspects that do not coincide with our views, while drawing attention to those that do support them. The most obvious way to prevent you opinion from being changed is to just avoid those that are likely to try to change it. The problem with these three factors is that they are all purely individualistic, where psychological research tends to imply that people tend to resist in groups rather than alone. Gamson et al. (1982) wanted to study rebellion, so he set up an experiment to do so.
He basically deceived people into thinking they were part of a company he’d set up to collect evidence for an upcoming court case. The court case was about a man who had lost his job from an oil company for ‘living in sin. ‘ The participants were asked to have discussions that were being videotaped; he wanted them to defend the oil company’s decision. They were then asked to sign a form entitling the oil company to edit these tapes as they wished and use them as evidence in court. What he found was the participants concluded that this was a scam by the oil company to collect evidence.
Annoyed by this many of the participants pulled out and only 33 of the 80 focus groups actually went ahead. Of these 16 groups unanimously refused to sign and in 9 groups the majority refused to sign. In the remaining 8 the majority agreed to sign but expressed some sort of rebellious sentiment. The fact that in Gamson’s study a great degree of rebellion was found, where in Milgram’s it was not. This suggests that there was a difference in the conditions. The obvious difference is in Milgram’s test on obedience the participants were alone, and in Gamson’s they were not.
This would suggest that strength in numbers has something to do with resisting authority. However in Milgram’s study the person instructing them was seen as more of an authority figure (scientist, white coat) than in Gamson’s study. Another flaw in this comparison is that the laboratory environment Milgram’s study was conducted in lacks ecological validity as it was not conducted in a true to life environment. This research has taught us many things about resistance but no clear cut assumptions can be drawn on such a complex subject.
It would seem that resistance is more likely when in a group than alone, however Zimbardo’s study doesn’t necessarily back this up. The question of whether ‘nice people’ can become ‘nasty people’ in certain circumstances is a complicated one, particularly as in the Milgram study when committing the ‘nasty’ act the participants believe they are doing the right thing by obeying the authority figure. Resistance is a complicated issue, in which theories cannot be backed up by a paradigm; its questions are that of our social world.