In their recently published article, “The Great Attributional Divide: How Divergent Views of Human Behavior are Shaping Legal Policy,”Situationist contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson described the psychological phenomenon of “reactance” and the way it encourages a dispositionist perspective. They write:
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Another reason that we are inclined toward dispositionist attributions lies in our desire to see ourselves in self-affirming ways. We like to believe that we are independent, intelligent consumers of life’s many options—the attitude-driven, reasoning, choice-makers of commercials and Westerns. Rather than victims of situation, we see ourselves as in control of our destinies—not just humans, but “Marlboro Men” or “Virginia Slims.”
Our desire to maintain that satisfying conception causes us to react strongly whenever we sense that our freedom is being unfairly limited. Indeed, we often react to perceived constraints on our choices (DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS SENTENCE!) by taking (or suddenly wanting to take) the prohibited option. Psychologists call this desire to maintain (the perception of) control “reactance”—a tendency that marketers have been exploiting for as long as there have been marketers. Attempts to restrict an individual’s emotions, attitudes, or behavior often produce a similar “boomerang effect”—that is, an increase in the restricted feelings or behavior. Although we often enjoy no more than an illusion of control over our situations, we are strongly motivated to see ourselves in the driver’s seat. Dispositionism, with its focus on individual choice, puts the wheel in our hand and the brake and accelerator beneath our feet.
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This “forbidden fruit” effect is particularly strong among young adults and adolescents (which is one reason why the tobacco industry is often said to have benefitted from regulations that purported to prevent non-adults from smoking). Now, a group of celebrities (including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Aniston, Forest Whitaker, Tobey Maguire, Jamie Foxx, and many more) have attempted to harness the power of “reverse psychology” in the following “Don’t Vote” campaign.
Thanks to Situationist friend, Andrew Perlman, for sending us this video.
For those who have missed it, here’s a copy of the other election-related ad by Sarah Silverman. This one uses a different persuasive technique — (potentially offensive) humor — as Sarah tells viewers to get their “fat Jewish asses on a plane to Florida” and convince their grandparents to vote for Obama.