Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Alan K. Goodboy

Committee Member

Megan R. Dillow

Committee Member

Daniel Totzkay


This thesis investigated undergraduate students’ perceptions and interpretations of language cues used within instructor email requests. Guided by Psychological Reactance Theory (PRT; Brehm, 1966; Brehm & Brehm, 1981), this thesis examined whether instructor email requests, containing different levels of powerful language and verbal immediacy cues, would impact students’ willingness to follow through with instructor requests. Two hundred thirty-four undergraduate students participated in the four-condition experiment which consisted of the email manipulation conditions containing varying levels of an instructors’ powerful language (e.g. “must;” Miller et al., 2007) and verbal immediacy (e.g., “our class;” Witt & Wheeless, 2001) cues. After reading an email, students completed a post-test measuring their thoughts (Quick & Stephenson, 2007), source credibility (McCroskey & Teven, 1999), state reactance (Dillard & Shen, 2005), intention to follow through (Ajzen, 1991; Moore & Richards, 2019), basic needs satisfaction (autonomy; Gagné, 2003), and email expectancy (Gorham, 1988; Miller et al., 2007; Witt & Wheeless, 2001). Results revealed significant correlations between instructor credibility and intention to follow through with requests, as well as significant relationships between these variables and the two dimensions of PRT. Finally, an indirect effect of verbal immediacy on both dimensions of psychological reactance was revealed. These findings provide practical and theoretical implications on the subject of language choice in persuasive messages both in and outside of the instructional communication context. Future research should continue to examine language choice decisions in mediated communication within hierarchical relationships and explore the role PRT plays in relationships both initially and as time elapses.