Mitigating the Perception of Threat to Freedom through Abstraction and Distance

Sherri Jean Katz, Sahara Byrne, Alyssa Irene Kent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


This study tested theoretical relationships between key concepts in psychological reactance theory and construal level theory. Through a 3 × 2 × 2 experiment (n = 155), we manipulate (1) how abstractly or concretely participants are processing a message, (2) the psychological distance to the message, and (3) whether or not the message restricts choice. Dependent measures include perceptions of threat to freedom and message effectiveness. Results show that increasing abstraction and/or distance can mitigate the perception of threat to freedom that is experienced when a message restricts choice. Furthermore, this process has a subsequent influence on message effectiveness. As the first study to consider the perception of threat to freedom in the context of construal level theory, this experiment furthers understanding of key theoretical relationships. Strategies for the design of successful persuasive messages are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1046-1069
Number of pages24
JournalCommunication Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was funded by the National Science Foundation, Grant No. SES-1260870.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016.


  • abstraction
  • construal level
  • persuasion
  • reactance


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