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Psychological reactance and the attractiveness of unobtainable objects: Sex differences in children's responses to an elimination of freedom


This study examined possible sex and age differences in children's perceptions of the attractiveness of unobtainable and obtained objects. Using an experimental paradigm developed by Hammock and J. Brehm (1966), half of the male and female first-grade and sixth-grade subjects were led to expect to choose between two objects; the other half were told they would be given one of two objects, but were not led to expect to choose between these objects. After subjects ranked an array of 10 objects, all subjects were given their third-ranked object and denied their fourth-ranked object. No subject was given any opportunity to indicate a preference or make a choice between these two alternatives. As predicted, subjects' subsequent rankings of the objects differed according to sex. Male subjects behaved in accordance with theoretical predictions based on J. Brehm's theory of psychological reactance and, thus, replicated the results obtained by Hammock and Brehm. The behavior of female subjects did not conform to the reactance theory model. No age differences were predicted and none were obtained. The implications of these results for predicting whether an unobtainable object will become more or less attractive, and for the nature and extent of sex differences in children's responses to the loss of behavioral freedoms, are discussed.

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This research was supported in part by a grant from the General Research Fund of the University of Kansas. Thanks are due to Bette Mayhugh, Thomas Kelley, Deborah Holt, and Robert Britain for serving as experimenters; to the staff and students of Yates Center and Conn West Elementary schools for assisting with and participating in this research; to Ed Morrow for building the step-construction; and to Jeanne Neath for her comments on the manuscript. Correspondence should be sent to Sharon S. Brehm, Department of Psychology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045.

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Brehm, S.S. Psychological reactance and the attractiveness of unobtainable objects: Sex differences in children's responses to an elimination of freedom. Sex Roles 7, 937–949 (1981). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00290976

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  • Social Psychology
  • Theoretical Prediction
  • Theory Model
  • Male Subject
  • Female Subject