4 Psychological Reactance Psychological Reactance Theory The education sector has been evolving at a


Psychological Reactance

Psychological Reactance Theory

The education sector has been evolving at a very fast rate, and the recent application of artificial intelligence in the sector has come with a raft of policies that will oversee its use. Institutions are adapting to the changes by amending their previously adopted policies, which have received mixed reactions from students who either seek to adopt enthusiastically or vehemently resist. Based on the Psychological Reactance Theory, this study critically examines the psychology underlying individual adherence, seeking to reveal the motivational forces steering the course of compliance or rebellion. With the impending integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in education, particularly the proposed AI policy for Fall 2024 at FIU, it becomes essential to understand how people react in such situations. This paper aims to extract valuable insights from existing literature to inform and support the hypotheses that will shape our study in the weeks to come.

The first one is a study by Ma and Miller (2022), which examined the repercussions of controlling language, fear, and disgust appeals on individuals’ responses to COVID-19 vaccination messages, rooted in Psychological Reactance Theory (PRT). Participants experienced varying combinations of these variables, and their reactions were measured after each message. The findings unveiled those heightened levels of controlling language, fear appeals, or disgust appeals resulted in diminished persuasion, fostering increased perceptions of freedom threat, reactance, source derogation, and less positive attitudes toward the messages. Significantly, the study contributes to our understanding of how controlling language, characterized by forceful imperatives, induces freedom-threatening reactions, aligning with our hypothesis. This underscores the pivotal role of language in health messages, which is crucial for anticipating public responses, especially in the context of imminent AI integration in education.

Another insightful study is Rui et al.’s (2023) study, which examined the cultural complexities of psychological reactance by examining the impact of power distance on reactions to anti-smoking messages in China and the United States. The participants, consisting of 400 Chinese and 441 Americans, were exposed to messages with and without controlling language. The study measured negative cognitive thoughts, anger, and state reactance as dependent variables. The findings revealed that individuals, particularly Americans, reacted more negatively to controlling language, reporting increased anger. This adverse reaction suggests that the use of controlling language in persuasive messages may trigger emotional responses, potentially diminishing the effectiveness of such communication strategies. The study further demonstrated that the country difference in state reactance was mediated through trait reactance and power distance, providing insightful support for our hypothesis.

As the education sector undergoes a transformative phase with the integration of artificial intelligence, several changes are projected to take place regulation-wise. This study utilizes insights from Ma and Miller’s (2022) investigation into controlling language effects and Rui et al.’s (2023) exploration of cultural influences on psychological reactance. Examining FIU’s upcoming AI policy, the research, informed by Psychological Reactance Theory, hypothesizes that compliance-commanding language will induce heightened freedom threat perceptions and psychological reactance.


Ma, H., & Miller, C. (2022). “I Felt Completely Turned off by the Message”: The Effects of Controlling Language, Fear, and Disgust Appeals on Responses to COVID-19 Vaccination Messages. 
Journal of Health Communication
27(6), 427-438.

Rui, J. R., Chen, J., Wang, L., & Xu, P. (2023). Freedom as Right or Privilege? Comparing the Effect of Power Distance on Psychological Reactance Between China and the United States. 
Health Communication, 1-13.

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