Religion, repulsion, and reaction formation: Transforming repellent attractions and repulsions

Dov Cohen, Emily Kim, Nathan W. Hudson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Protestants were more likely than non-Protestants to demonstrate phenomena consistent with the use of reaction formation. Lab experiments showed that when manipulations were designed to produce taboo attractions (to unconventional sexual practices), Protestants instead showed greater repulsion. When implicitly conditioned to produce taboo repulsions (to African Americans), Protestants instead showed greater attraction. Supportive evidence from other studies came from clinicians' judgments, defense mechanism inventories, and a survey of respondent attitudes. Other work showed that Protestants who diminished and displaced threatening affect were more likely to sublimate this affect into creative activities; the present work showed that Protestants who do not or cannot diminish or displace such threatening affect instead reverse it. Traditional individual difference variables showed little ability to predict reaction formation, suggesting that the observed processes go beyond what we normally study when we talk about self-control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-584
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Culture
  • Defense
  • Reaction formation
  • Religion
  • Repulsion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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