Avoid reading this article at all costs
Has it ever confused you how you can convince people to pursue a specific behavior by telling them to do the opposite of what you wanted? If so, it is advised that you stop reading this article on how that persuasive technique, known as reverse psychology, works. After all, not everyone can handle the mental complexity behind a seemingly counter-intuitive phenomenon.
If your desire to continue reading suddenly increased, then you can probably understand why reverse psychology can, at times, be effective. According to howstuffworks.com, reverse psychology enables people to fulfill a need for independence by doing something upon their free will, rather than being coerced into it. The theory was first brought to light by German psychologists, Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno and Max Horkheimer, back in 1970. Today, there are many examples of reverse psychology that may seem familiar to you. For example, you may have had that odd temptation to put your hand over a red button, even though it clearly had a “Do not press” sign right above it. Reverse psychology is a technique that frequently shapes the ways people interact with others, as well as their environments and even themselves.
Reverse psychology is both widespread and frequently used. In a 2011 survey conducted by researchers from Universities of Toronto, Central Arkansas (Conway), and Western Ontario, the majority of a group of college students said that they used reverse psychology on about a monthly basis. Furthermore, they found it to be just as effective as other influence tactics defined by social psychologists, including door-in-the-face, foot-in-the-door, and disrupt-then-reframe.
Besides helping you surreptitiously get what you want, reverse psychology can also help better people’s lives. Psychotherapists use a counseling technique involving a nuanced form of reverse psychology, called paradoxical intervention. During paradoxical intervention, the therapist prescribes the symptom that a patient is seeking to fix. For example, in 1975, two parents came to seek help from a University of Delaware psychologist, Rachel T. Hare-Mustin, after having issues with their four-year-old son’s frequent and capricious temper tantrums. The issue was corrected when the parents were told to designate a time and place in which their son was encouraged to have a tantrum. To their surprise, the son’s tantrums had significantly diminished within a few weeks.
By deliberately having unwanted symptoms, patients see the absurdity of the situation and realize that they can voluntarily avoid the symptom. In turn, paradoxical intervention reinforces the mindset that the patients have autonomy over their own behavior and experiences. The technique, however, does raise some ethical concerns, including cases when the patient is struggling to fix a dangerous or illegal behavior.
In fact, reverse psychology plays upon a psychological phenomenon known as reactance. In 1976, University of Texas at Austin researchers found that people were more likely to write graffiti when a sign on a college bathroom wall stated “Do not write on these walls under any circumstances,” rather when it said “Please do not write on the walls,” or even when no sign was present. Later on, University of Virginia researchers found that children formed a preference for a toy that they initially found unattractive and were told not to use. The same results were found from studies with adults.
The experiments serve as instances of the reactance theory, which was developed by Jack Brehm, a former University of Kansas professor. According to the theory, people react negatively when their freedom is threatened, and thus, they develop a desire to engage in a forbidden behavior. It shows the marked difference it can make when you politely ask someone to do something versus when you give your request in a demanding way.
People who like to be in control, from rebels to narcissists, are more likely to be affected by reverse psychology. The phenomenon also tends to work best when people are caught up in an emotional, rather than rational, state of mind. However, reverse psychology is susceptible to pitfalls. When you use it on someone, you may not always receive your intended effect. It can also teach others that you do not really mean what you say, or in some cases, it can make you come off as manipulative.
Reverse psychology can be applied in many different situations, whether it be when your parents were raising you during your rebellious teenage years, or when that salesman was trying to sell you a car that you probably did not need.
In more serious matters, it could be a tool you use in preventing the release of sensitive information. Just reaching the end of this article showcases your natural dislike of being told what to do, as well as your innate desire for the freedom to decide the actions you take by yourself.