Sociology Index


Reaction formation is a psychological mechanism which emerges when failure is imminent. Albert Cohen proposed two basic ideologies, status frustration and reaction formation. Albert Cohen, for example, found that lower-class boys often turned middle-class values, the very values causing them to fail, on their head. In Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions are replaced by their direct opposites. Reaction formation is usually considered one of the obsessional defences.

Reaction formation consists in the person doing in an exaggerated way just the opposite of what would satisfy his repressed wishes, impulses, true feelings. Sigmund Freud called the exaggerated compensation that can appear in Reaction Formation overboarding as the person is going overboard in one direction to distract from and cover up something unwanted in the other direction. Such as a person who fears war becoming a pacifist, convincing himself that war is wrong, rather than the 'cowardly' position that war is scary.

Status frustration affects young people of lower classes, because there is no parallel between their own social realities and the rest of society's promoted goals. They become frustrated by inequality of opportunity and inequality of condition that they face leading to Cohen’s second principle of reaction formation. In reaction formation there was a certain degree of nihilism; rather than taking money to purchase things they needed, they may throw the money away, give it to others, or purchase useless articles. It has been speculated that an example of Reaction formation is homosexuals acquiring hateful views toward homosexuality, thus leading to homophobia.

Rather than valuing the middle-class sofa, they might defecate on it. Reaction Formation occurs when a person feels an urge to do or say something and then actually does or says something that is effectively the opposite of what they really want. Reaction Formation may also appears as a defense against a feared social punishment. A common pattern in Reaction Formation is where the person uses 'excessive behavior', for example using exaggerated friendliness when the person is actually feeling unfriendly.

Reaction formation and cynicism - Irving Sarnoff - Journal of Personality - Volume 28 Page 129 - March 1960.

Theoretical foundations of reaction formation as a defense mechanism. - Juni S.
Among the defense mechanisms, reaction formation is presented as the most stable, pervading the entire personality structure. The source of the defensive energy is explored within the context of drive theory, paralleling superego development and the processes of functional autonomy of other drive derivatives. The dynamics of balancing affect against behavior are analyzed with reference to the adaptive function of compulsion. Reaction formation is shown to relate closely to repression in its capacity for comprehensive impulse negation. the centrality of reaction formation within the constellation of anal characterology is underlined.

Reaction Formulation: A Bibliography. - Pedrini, D. T.; Pedrini, Bonnie C. 
Reaction formation was studied by Sigmund Freud. This defense mechanism may be related to repression, substitution, reversal, and compensation. Alfred Adler considered compensation a basic process in his individual psychology. Anna Freud discussed some defense mechanisms, and Bibring, Dwyer, Huntington, and Valenstein discussed many, many defense mechanisms. However, little experimental research has actually been done with reaction formation.