Persuasive interventions can lose their effectiveness when a person becomes reactant to the persuasive messages—a state identified by feelings of anger and perceived threat to freedom. A person will strive to reestablish their threatened freedom, which is characterized by motivational arousal. Research suggests that the motivational state of psychological reactance can be observed in physiology. Therefore, the assessment of physiological reactions might help to identify reactance to persuasive messages and, thereby, could be an objective approach to personalize persuasive technologies. The current study investigates peripheral psychophysiological reactivity in response to persuasive messages. To manipulate the strength of the reactant response either high- or low-controlling language messages were presented to discourage meat consumption. The high-controlling language condition indeed evoked more psychological reactance, and sympathetic arousal did increase during persuasive messaging in heart rate and heart rate variability, although no clear relationship between physiological reactivity and self-reported psychological reactance was found. However, the evaluation of multiple linear models revealed that variance in self-reported psychological reactance was best explained by initial intentions in combination with cardiovascular reactivity. To conclude, considering physiological reactivity in addition to motivational state can benefit our understanding of psychological reactance.
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