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This study extends psychological reactance theory (PRT) to family caregiving by exploring autonomy-threatening messages adult child caregivers use to gain compliance from older adult parents. Results of focus groups and interviews with older adult care recipients (Study One) and caregivers (Study Two) corroborated three types of autonomy-threatening messages, which were used to test PRT (Study Three). Older adults (N = 281) were randomly assigned a caregiving message and answered reactance-related survey questions. Results supported serial mediation: relative to an autonomy-supporting message, two types of autonomy-threatening messages (i.e., offering directives, expressing doubt) triggered greater freedom threat, which amplified reactance. In turn, greater reactance elicited more negative attitudes, which was linked to lower behavioral intention. Results offer implications for older adults’ experience of reactance and family caregiving communication.


This is an Accepted Manuscript version of the following article, accepted for publication in Communication Monographs in 2022. It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Taylor & Francis

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License



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