We are living in a generation where we are fed with advertisements all the time. Advertisers’ sole aim rests on gaining as many eyeballs as possible. In this conquest, they attempt to persuade customers with buying their products through various marketing and psychological tricks. The theory of psychological reactance when not properly implemented may result in the boomerang effect.

Simply stating, the Boomerang effect refers to the unintended consequence of an attempt to persuade a consumer in our own interest but resulting in the adoption of a completely opposite position instead. It is a shift in a person’s attitude that totally goes against what was intended for.


In the field of social psychology, the boomerang effect refers to an unintentional result of an attempt to change the thought of a person. Hovland, Janis, and Kelly were the first to record and name the boomerang effect in 1953. The boomerang effect may be seen in many cases in our daily lives.

When we try to persuade a weak or unclear point to a person, it leads the recipient in a negative direction. He then tends to believe that the communicator is trying to convince them of something negative. This is entirely different from what the communicator actually intends to say. The boomerang effect can also be noticed when persuasion arouses aggression. When the communicator adds to the recipient’s knowledge, the norms and increases their conformity, the boomerang effect could be seen.

In 1957, Hovland, Sherif, and Harvey further discussed and studied the unintended attitude changes in persuasion communication. They suggested possible measures for the analysis of this. They used many approaches like:

– Some motivational processes

– Psychophysical stimuli

– Ego-involving verbal material.


Jack Brehm and Arthur Cohen were among the first to provide the theoretical explanation towards the boomerang effect. They conducted an experiment to examine the behaviors of eighth-graders making them eat a vegetable that they dislike. About half of them were told that their parents would be informed of the vegetable which they ate. The liking of vegetables was measured before and after the procedure.

From the experiment they concluded that the more was the individual’s dislike, the greater was the pressure produced by the experiment to increase his liking. There was also more resistance to change the attitude when the initial attitude was more strong.


Sensenig & Brehm applied Brehm’s reactance theory to explain the boomerang effect. They observed a very general phenomenon. When a person thinks that his freedom to on any point issue is eliminated, he naturally gets angry. The psychological reaction of such a person will be aroused. The person thereby moves his attitude in a way in which he could restore the lost freedom.

He told college students to write an essay supporting one side of the five issues. He also led some of the students to believe that their essays might influence the decision on those issues. The people who had the impression that their preference in the essay was taken into account showed an attitude change. Their attitude changed in favor of the preferred position.

The others who are concerned with their freedom did not show any attitude change. This is because they were more worried about their freedom of thought. The former ones were aware that their thought might have an influence on the issues. So they changed their thought accordingly.

The Boomerang effect is sometimes also referred to as attribution or the attitude boomerang effect. Some researchers applied Heider’s attribution theory to explain the occurrence of the boomerang effect. Skowronski, Carlston, Mae, and Crawford demonstrated some association-based effects. They performed their study on spontaneous trait transfer.


The term boomerang effect can be used to describe the effects of a large change on an ecosystem. This condition arises when the effects escape from the control of the one who introduced them. Some of the examples to explain the boomerang effect in relation to the environment are:

  1. The introduction of DDT as a pesticide– DDT led to the accumulation of the chemical in birds. It interfered with their reproduction and started killing them.
  2. The introduction of rabbits to Australia by Europeans- The introduction of rabbits became economically and environmentally damaging. This was because the rabbits had no natural predators. Then, foxes were released to kill the rabbits. The foxes instead started feeding on the native Australian wildlife.
  3. The draining of American wetlands- Since colonial times the draining of American wetlands was taking place. This resulted in flash-flooding and seasonal droughts.
  4. The installation of smokestacks to decrease pollution- in local areas smokestacks were installed. They resulted in spreading the pollution at a higher altitude. This mishap also caused acid rain on an international scale.


It is possible that an attempt to change peoples’ biased behavior often results in a negative boomerang effect. Any forced change which threatens their self-image, or challenges their view will have a negative boomerang effect. The effect shows that people will not change their judgments or behavior, but will even strengthen their existing opinions. It not only was seen in history but could be seen even today in our day to day life. People tend to oppose anyone who disregards their thoughts. Not only they oppose such people but also sometimes become aggressive to show that their belief is right.

Whenever a person feels that their freedom is being restricted, they start to oppose it. They then develop a strong belief towards their thought and this time the belief is much stronger than before. It is just like a backfire. The result is just the opposite of whatever the communicator intends to do. An example of this can be seen in public messages. If a public message is too strong or much forceful then it is not as effective. This is because people feel that they are being forced to do something and their freedom is being snatched.

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