Reverse psychology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Reverse psychology is a technique involving the assertion of a belief or behavior that is opposite to the one desired, with the expectation that this approach will encourage the subject of the persuasion to do what is actually desired. This technique relies on the psychological phenomenon of reactance, in which a person has a negative emotional reaction to being persuaded, and thus chooses the option which is being advocated against.[1] This may work especially well on a person who is resistant by nature, while direct requests work best for people who are compliant.[2] The one being manipulated is usually unaware of what is really going on.[3]

Among adolescents[edit]

Susan Fowler writes, "Beware that such strategies [of reverse psychology] can backfire. Children can sense manipulation a mile away." She instead recommends leading by example.[4]

Reverse psychology is often used on children due to their high tendency to respond with reactance, a desire to restore threatened freedom of action. Questions have, however been raised about such an approach when it is more than merely instrumental, in the sense that "reverse psychology implies a clever manipulation of the misbehaving child".[5]

The psychology professor John Gottman advises against using reverse psychology on teens on the presumption that they will rebel, stating that "such strategies are confusing, manipulative, dishonest, and they rarely work."[6] A typical example of using reverse psychology among adolescents is a parent openly disapproving of their child's romantic relationship, with the objective being to encourage the pursuit of the opposite behavior.[7]

This psychological approach has proven to be particularly effective with adolescents as many of these are prone to rebellious tendencies and will frequently behave in a manner antithetical to the advice of well-meaning authority figures.[8]

Psychological reactance theory[edit]

Reverse psychology can fall under many different psychological influence techniques. Reverse psychology is sometimes referred to as psychological reactance, the aroused state that occurs when freedom is threatened or eliminated. The higher stake or more freedoms that are threatened, the more arousal that can be expected. People prefer to be free to select what they like. When that freedom is taken away, they are motivated to restore it.[9] Psychological reactance can be better explained as the idea that an item will be wanted more if people are told they cannot have it,[10] which can relate to reverse psychology on some levels. Another influence technique that relates to reverse psychology is strategic self-anticonformity. Strategic self-anticonformity is when a person advocates a position opposite of their true thought while hiding the fact that they are using a persuasion tactic. A typical example of such is marketing techniques or tricks such as "do not click this link" or "do not push this button." Strategic self-anticonformity and psychological reactance relate to their expected negativity or disagreeableness from their influence target.[11]

In psychotherapy[edit]

Closely associated with reverse psychology in psychotherapy is the technique of "the Paradoxical intervention....This technique has also been called 'prescribing the symptom' and 'antisuggestion'".[12] The therapist frames their message so that resistance to it promotes change.[13]

Such interventions "can have a similar impact as humour in helping clients cast their problems in a new light....By going with, not against, the client's resistance, the therapist makes the behaviour less attractive".[14] This is referred to as reframing. This means pretending to agree with clients' thoughts and beliefs; reaffirming them out loud to make them realize their fallibility.[15]

In relationships[edit]

In personal interpersonal relationships, reverse psychology can be implemented from two perspectives. On the one hand, it can be used as a manipulative "persuasion tactic" in a negative fashion. Alternatively, it can also be used as a helpful method to benefit relationships.[16]

Marketing and decision-making[edit]

Psychology is another word to refer to "perception, analyzing and focusing on other people's decisions." Throughout history, this has been utilized in many ways. A common one would be games. In certain card games, the idea is to make the person focus on the REVERSE of what they think they are paying attention to.[17]

Modern marketing and advertising strategies use similar techniques. Although these studies have not been consistently shown in laboratory settings, and the results are often inconclusive, reverse psychology is often considered a controversial topic, and results from experiments are not always consistent. Nevertheless, it has still profoundly impacted the study of perception in psychology and behavior.[18]

Paradoxical marketing[edit]

"In a world where it is expected that all things should be available ... less availability has emerged as a new selling point: by engaging in such a restricted anti-marketing ploy, the brand has won kudos."[19] The result can be "what the Japanese call a secret brand ... no regular retail outlets, no catalog, no web presence apart from a few cryptic mentions ... people like it because it's almost impossible to find".[20] Such an example of a brand is Cayce Pollard's "The Gabriel Hounds".[21]

Adorno and Horkheimer[edit]

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer characterized the effect of the culture industry as "psychoanalysis in reverse". Their analysis began with the dialectic which operated in Germany when heirs of the Romantic movement became seekers of "Strength through Joy", only to have their movement co-opted by a combination of the mass media and National Socialism. A modern example begins with the "fitness and jogging" boom in the United States in the 1970s. The "running craze" at the Boston Marathon and in California, dialectically, was the thesis that one did not have to be "Rocky" in a sweaty gym to be physically fit, and that body acceptance was the key to effective aerobic training. The culture industry responded to the thesis with major advertising campaigns from Calvin Klein and others, using images featuring exceptionally toned models. People compared themselves to these models, which created a sense of competition, and many high school students avoid jogging because of the resultant body shame.

The culture industry mass-produces standardized material. This would not be dangerous if the material was meaningless, but it frequently offers and reinforces ideals and norms representing implied criticism of those who fail to match up. Empirical studies show that mass culture products can lower confidence and self-esteem, and cause humiliation among men and women whose particular characteristics fall outside the normalized range for appearance, behaviour, religion, ethnicity, etc. Similarly, advertising frequently seeks to create a need to buy by showing differences between actual and ideal situations. The intention is usually to induce dissatisfaction with the present situation and to induce expectations of satisfaction through the acquisition of products that will transform the actual reality into the idealized reality. Hence, if the peer group buys, all those who cannot afford the products will feel additional unhappiness and frustration until they eventually join the group. Thus, sometimes the process of advocacy for one outcome intends to produce the opposite outcome as the motivation for purchase.

However, more often than not, the cause and effect are unintended. Marxist logic applied to the culture industry indicates that it is, per se, a dialectic in which declining profit margins and increasing costs make investors anxious for "sure things". Repeating winning formulas and stereotyping create the lowest common denominator products with the lowest costs. But the less creative the input, the more likely it becomes that roles will be cast in ways that match, rather than challenge, common prejudices which can inadvertently (or quite deliberately) damage the esteem of those in the marginalized groups.[22][23][page needed]

In popular culture[edit]

A stereotypical joke sign, inviting the user not to press it

Classic examples of reverse psychology in popular culture include a large, bright red button with a sign next to it saying "Do not push", or a sign saying "Jump at your own risk".

There are numerous examples of reverse psychology in fiction, cinema, and cartoons, including William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where Mark Antony uses reverse psychology to get the townspeople to cause a riot. Mark Antony pretends to side with Brutus by complimenting his deeds which have led to Caesar's murder, while actually inciting the crowd's anger.[24]

In one of Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus stories, Br'er Rabbit escaped from Br'er Fox by repeatedly pleading "Please, Br'er Fox, don't fling me in that briar patch." "The fox did so, which allowed the rabbit to escape: The Rabbit used 'reverse psychology' to outsmart the Fox."[25]

In Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor uses reverse psychology to persuade Fortunato to enter his vaults.[26] He says that Fortunato is too tired and should get some rest and that he should find someone else to help him with his wine tasting problem. Montresor knew that Fortunato would disagree and insisted on entering the vault, leading him into his death by immurement.

The Swedish fictional character Alfie Atkins uses reverse psychology in the children's book You're a Sly One, Alfie Atkins! from 1977.[27] He exaggerates his own childishness in order to convince his older cousins to sit at the grown-up table.

One of the most famous examples of reverse psychology in popular culture is a gag in the Looney Tunes cartoon Rabbit Fire. While Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are arguing over whether it's Duck Season or Rabbit Season, Bugs suddenly switches sides and says "Rabbit Season", throwing Daffy off and resulting in him arguing for Duck Season, and getting himself shot.

In the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valiant, in order to save Roger from being executed by Judge Doom, tricks him into drinking liquor (which Roger is allergic to) by using reverse psychology. It is done in the same manner as the Looney Tunes example above, and it's most likely a reference.

In the 1992 Disney film Aladdin, the titular character, upon freeing the Genie from the lamp, uses reverse psychology to trick the Genie into freeing him from the Cave of Wonders, without using one of his three wishes to do so.

A popular example of reverse psychology in media is the release of Queen's hit song "Bohemian Rhapsody". Upon release, the band was told the song was too long to ever be played on the radio, running at 5 minutes and 55 seconds. To overcome this, the band gave the song to Kenny Everett of Capital Radio and made him promise not to play it. Everett in fact did play the song, and the band's plan worked, with the song becoming number one on the UK singles chart for nine weeks.[28] [circular reference]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reverse Psychology. Retrieved on 2018-09-30.
  2. ^ "Do You Use "Reverse Psychology"? Stop Right Now!". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2018-09-22.
  3. ^ Elena N. Malyuga; Svetlana N. Orlova (14 November 2017). Linguistic Pragmatics of Intercultural Professional and Business Communication. Springer. p. 71. ISBN 978-3-319-68744-5.
  4. ^ Susan Fowler (30 September 2014). Why Motivating People Doesn't Work . . . and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-62656-184-7.
  5. ^ R. J. Delaney/K. R Kunstal, Troubled Transplants (2000) p. 81
  6. ^ John Gottman, The Heart of Parenting (London 1997) p. 21, p. 179 and p. 212
  7. ^ MacDonald, Geoff; Nail, Paul R.; Harper, Jesse R. (2011-01-01). "Do people use reverse psychology? An exploration of strategic self-anticonformity". Social Influence. 6 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1080/15534510.2010.517282. ISSN 1553-4510. S2CID 11218199.
  8. ^ MacDonald, Geoff; Nail, Paul R.; Harper, Jesse R. (2011-01-01). "Do people use reverse psychology? An exploration of strategic self-anticonformity". Social Influence. 6 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1080/15534510.2010.517282. ISSN 1553-4510. S2CID 11218199.
  9. ^ Rosenberg, Benjamin D.; Siegel, Jason T. (December 2018). "A 50-year review of psychological reactance theory: Do not read this article". Motivation Science. 4 (4): 281–300. doi:10.1037/mot0000091. ISSN 2333-8121. S2CID 149259088.
  10. ^ "Reactance - IResearchNet". Psychology. 2016-01-13. Retrieved 2022-03-05.
  11. ^ Hajjat, Fatima (2016). Obal, Michael W.; Krey, Nina; Bushardt, Christian (eds.). "Is There Such a Thing as Reverse Psychology?". Let's Get Engaged! Crossing the Threshold of Marketing's Engagement Era. Developments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science. Cham: Springer International Publishing: 721–722. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-11815-4_218. ISBN 978-3-319-11815-4.
  12. ^ Gerald Corey, Theory and Practice of Counselling and Psychotherapy (1991) p. 155
  13. ^ R. F. Baumeister/B. J. Bushman, Social Psychology and Human Nature <2007) p. 467
  14. ^ Corey, p. 385 and p. 155
  15. ^ When All Else Fails, Try Reverse Psychology!. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 2018-09-30.
  16. ^ MacDonald, Geoff; Nail, Paul R.; Harper, Jesse R. (2011-01-01). "Do people use reverse psychology? An exploration of strategic self-anticonformity". Social Influence. 6 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1080/15534510.2010.517282. ISSN 1553-4510. S2CID 11218199.
  17. ^ Pailhès, Alice; Kuhn, Gustav (2020-06-17). "The apparent action causation: Using a magician forcing technique to investigate our illusory sense of agency over the outcome of our choices". Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 73 (11): 1784–1795. doi:10.1177/1747021820932916. ISSN 1747-0218. PMC 7583451. PMID 32478591.
  18. ^ Pailhès, Alice; Kuhn, Gustav (2020-06-17). "The apparent action causation: Using a magician forcing technique to investigate our illusory sense of agency over the outcome of our choices". Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 73 (11): 1784–1795. doi:10.1177/1747021820932916. ISSN 1747-0218. PMC 7583451. PMID 32478591.
  19. ^ Indrajit Sinha/Thomas Foscht, Reverse Psychology Marketing (2007) p. 156
  20. ^ William Gibson, Zero History (London 2010) p. 45-6 and p 72
  21. ^ Tom Henthorne (13 June 2011). William Gibson: A Literary Companion. McFarland. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-7864-8693-9.
  22. ^ Adorno, Theodor W. Negative Dialectics Continuum International Publishing Group; Reprint (1983) ISBN 0-8264-0132-5 (Reference for entire section Adorno and Horkheimer)
  23. ^ Horkheimer, Max, Adorno, Theodor W. & Cumming, John the (Translator) Dialectic of Enlightenment (Reference for entire section Adorno and Horkheimer)
  24. ^ "How did Antony convince the crowd in his funeral oration to seek revenge in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare?" eNotes, 5 Dec. 2012, Accessed 30 Sep. 2018
  25. ^ Madelyn Jablon, Black Metafiction (1999) p. 100
  26. ^ Sanford Pinsker (1990). Bearing the Bad News: Contemporary American Literature and Culture. University of Iowa Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-58729-190-6.
  27. ^ "Små och stora äventyr med Alfons Åberg".
  28. ^ "Bohemian Rhapsody", Wikipedia, 2022-02-26, retrieved 2022-03-03

Further reading[edit]

  • Gerald R. Weeks, Promoting Change through Paradoxical Therapy (1991)