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.

Status frustration affects young people of lower classes. 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.

In Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions are replaced by their direct opposites. 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. It also appears as a defense against a feared social punishment. If I fear that I will be criticized for something, I very visibly act in a way that shows I am personally a long way from the feared position.

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.

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 themselves that war is wrong (rather than the ‘cowardly’ position that war is scary).

Reaction formation is usually considered one of the obsessional defences. It consists in the person doing in an exaggerated way just the opposite of what would satisfy his repressed wishes, impulses, true feelings.

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

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. As with most defense mechanisms, it is difficult to include in the investigations both the Freudian conceptualizations and the experimental controls. This bibliography concerns itself with work on reaction formation from the 1930's to the middle 1960's.

The "Ingresque" portraits Picasso began to produce in 1915 may be understood, Krauss suggests, as a reaction formation (Freud's term) to the success of the new technological art that came into its own by the mid-teens, specifically, the new status of the photograph as an art medium along with the new machine art exemplified by Picabia's mechanomorphic drawings.
In reaction formation, Krauss notes, "the symptoms are merely inverted versions of the instincts they are supposed to defend against." Just so, the "hardened line" of the "Ingresque" portraits, a line that encases the bodies of Picasso's sitters "with its ever more emphatically thick, uninflected contour, stiff and sinuous at the same time like a stubbornly continuous wire," can be read as pastiche of Picabia's mechanomorphic drawings.
Further, Krauss argues in the second part of her essay, the new series of collages Picasso now begins to produce, collages in which strong color and the divisionism of Seurat are introduced for the first time, can be understood as a comparable reaction formation to the machine an of Picabia, Leger, and the despised Futurists. - The Picasso Papers. - book reviews.