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Reactance and Rebound

By Mumtaz Ahmed

  1. Juliet in Repose
    Juliet in Repose
    By Janhavi Kulkarni
​How rules lead to rebellion. 

          When people are pressured to have a certain attitude or to behave in a specific manner, they sometimes have a gut feeling which pulls them to act in complete contrary to the compelled ideas. Though it may seem frustrating to the one giving the orders, Adam Grant explains, in his Business Insider article, “Why People Often Do The Exact Opposite Of What They're Told”, the science behind this defiant behavior. By the same token, these themes of defiance and teenage rebellion coincide appropriately with story of forbidden love depicted in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. While many believe that explicit direction is the most effective mean for enforcing one’s commands, the behaviors mentioned in Grant’s article, as well as Shakespeare’s tragedy, provide evidence to suggest that such methods are not only ineffective, but they are even capable of instigating one to rebel.

          In Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Juliet, one of the young lovers in the story displays many of the behaviors associated with the psychological phenomenon of Reactance Theory described in the Business Insider article. Reactance occurs when a person deliberately disobeys commands for the sake of maintaining one’s own sense of power and control.  Shortly after Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment, Juliet’s parents command Juliet to marry Paris. However, by ordering her to marry him, they only made the situation worse for themselves, as Juliet immediately objects stating that “when I do [marry] I swear It shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate, Rather than Paris”(III.ii.120-122). After being told what to do by her parents, Juliet's initial reaction was to argue against her parents’ requests.

          When she makes this comment she not only makes her spiteful attitude evident to her parents. She is also gains self reassurance, reminding herself that she married Romeo and that her parents weren't able to stop her. The Business Insider article mentions behavior which quite similar to Juliet’s. In fact, it was so similar, it was explicitly named it the Romeo and Juliet effect, after Shakespeare's tragedy. The results of the various studies conducted to support this theory suggest that when “parents interfere with a romantic relationship”, the teenagers’ feelings of love only intensify (Grant). Due to Reactance Theory, teenagers might become more likely to disobey the rules, for the knowledge of not being able to have something only causes them to want it more. It was for this same reason that after her parents confronted her about marrying Paris, Juliet sought after Romeo more.

          Another theory presented in Grant’s article and Romeo and Juliet is Rebound Theory. Like Reactance Theory, Rebound Theory contributes to the idea that dictation leading to defiance. Rebound Theory, in short, is a concept which states that reminding people to not do something only instigates them more, leading them to contradict the rules. Daniel Wegener conducted a study in order to prove this theory and came to the conclusion that when people are specifically instructed to think about something such as a white bear, they think about it “more than twice as often” (Grant). The study proves that constant warning does not help one's cause; in fact, it proves to be counterproductive. In the same way, the nurse’s attempts to comfort Juliet by telling her to forget about Romeo were quite unsuccessful. The nurse reminds her that Romeo is banished and advises her that it would be best if she married “ a lovely gentleman [Paris]! Romeo’s a dishclout to him”(III.v.220). Juliet seems unmoved by the nurse’s words, so instead of accepting her advice, she becomes further convinced that Romeo is the only one for her and goes to the Friar so that he may help her be with Romeo.

          Modern psychological theories explaining the causes for rebellion such reactance and curiosity are just as applicable in our lives as they are in Shakespeare's four hundred year old tragedy. The pressured attitude that implicitly denounced the relationship between Romeo and Juliet acted as more of a fuel for their love rather than a suppressor. Reactance Theory and Rebound Theory combined form the recipe that makes the forbidden fruit of love so much sweeter.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Prentice Hall Literature: Grade 9.  Ed.
Grant Wiggins. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson, 2012. 807-930. Print.

Grant, Adam. “Why People Often Do The Exact Opposite Of What They're Told”. Business
Insider Wiggins. Web. 9 Feb 2017