When countermessaging backfires: The role of obsessive passion in psychological reactance.

Jocelyn J. Bélanger, Birga M. Schumpe, Claudia F. Nisa, Manuel Moyano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Political countermessages are communication strategies intended to discourage people from supporting violent political activism; however, it is unclear whether they are indeed effective. The purpose of this research was to address this gap by testing the influence of political countermessages on individuals with a passion for a cause. Four studies tested the proposition that when individuals are exposed to a political countermessage (vs. control message), obsessive (but not harmonious) passion for a cause is associated with psychological reactance and greater willingness to engage in violent political behaviors. Across 4 studies, we found support for this hypothesis across various ideological groups (Study 1: environmentalists; Study 2: Black Lives Matter activists; Study 3: Republicans; Study 4: Pro-Life activists). Moreover, in Study 4 we show that providing political activists with an opportunity to self-affirm before exposure to a countermessage successfully lowered their willingness to engage in violent activism. As a whole, the present findings challenge the widespread, although unsubstantiated, assumption that countermessages are effective to mitigate support for violent political activism. We suggest that countermessages should be used with extreme caution as they can increase radical activism in individuals who harbor an obsessive passion for their political cause.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-95
Number of pages13
JournalMotivation Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • countermessages
  • passion
  • reactance
  • violent extremism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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