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The Psychology of Reverse Psychology: Does it Really Work?

July 12, 2021

7 min read

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Author : United We Care
The Psychology of Reverse Psychology: Does it Really Work?

Have you ever gotten someone to do something by telling them to do the opposite? If yes, then you have inadvertently used reverse psychology.

Introduction to Reverse Psychology in Everyday Life


Reverse Psychology is a phenomenon that involves a person achieving something they desire by using rather roundabout methods of persuasion on the person they want the desired action from. They may do this instead of directly asking that person to do the action.

This tactic might work because the person doing the persuasion might know the other person well enough that the other person is unlikely to accede to their request. A simple example of this in everyday life is a girl getting a boy to like her by pretending to be interested in a different boy, while she secretly desires the first boy in actuality.

Reverse Psychology, Persuasion and Manipulation


Has your friend ever convinced you to do something that you had earlier told him you did not want? Have you been unknowingly tricked into cleaning your room by your mother when you had been so stubborn about not doing so? Have you at any point had the sneaky suspicion that your husband was getting you to do something you did not want to? Well, you’ve probably been at the receiving end of reverse psychology persuasion at work.

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When Should I Use Reverse Psychology?


Similarly, you might also have persuaded someone to do the opposite of what was expected of them.  You’ve possibly even done this unknowingly. These are some reverse psychology examples. Reverse psychology often takes place when someone tries to persuade you to do something that they feel, often sincerely, is good for you, suitable for them, or even for both of you, or the environment you are both in (like home or work). When traditional persuasion fails, reverse psychology can be an alternate persuasion tactic to get someone to do what you want.

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What is Reverse Psychology?


Reverse psychology is a considered and planned persuasion tactic to steer someone’s feelings and thinking so that they will be compelled to act according to your desire. Usually, this method of persuasion is very subtle, subliminal, and often is not even noticeable.

Is Reverse Psychology a Form of Manipulation?


It should be realized that reverse psychology is a form of manipulation in which someone resorts to saying the very opposite of what is expected of them to get the other to perform a specific action. It is usually employed when you have failed (or know you will fail) to persuade or convince someone to do something using traditional persuasion or manipulation tactics. Usually, we associate an aura of negativity with the term ‘manipulation’, however, reverse psychology is useful in a number of situations that yield a positive outcome.

Reverse Psychology Meaning: What is the Definition of Reverse Psychology?


There are many definitions of reverse psychology.  Perhaps, the most easy-to-understand, non-technical description is that Reverse Psychology is a persuasion technique that involves a person urging someone to act or behave in a particular way by telling them to do the very opposite.

When Do People Use Reverse Psychology?


Reverse psychology can be useful in many situations: at home, in the workplace, in negotiations, or on the playground. It is often used very unconsciously by most people who understand the person they are dealing with to a certain extent. In summary, people use the reverse psychology persuasion method to motivate someone to behave in a particular way by asking them to do the exact opposite action.

How Reverse Psychology Works


The mechanism of ‘what is reverse psychology?’ and how it works on the human mind is widely studied by psychologists globally. Many use terms such as paradoxical intervention or anti-suggestion to describe reverse psychology.

When you ask someone to do the opposite, they take it upon themselves as a challenge to prove their worth by doing the action desired by you as part of the tactic. This technique has also been called strategic anti-conformity by some psychologists.

Reverse Psychology and Reactance Theory


The underlying concept behind reverse psychology is reactance, or a desire to restore threatened freedom of action. The Reactance Theory states that human beings have an intuitive need to protect their freedom of choice. They do not want it taken away and feel helpless if their freedom is threatened. Thus, a person can go to great lengths to protect this freedom.

While it triggers behaviors that support reverse psychology, reactance is unpleasant motivational arousal, not a positive one. It operates on the idea that you will invariably want whatever you are told you cannot have.

Does Reverse Psychology Always Work?


Reverse psychology doesn’t always work on everybody. In general, there are two kinds of people – those that are compliant and resistant. Compliant people normally follow directions without controversy, while resistant people tend to be more biased or opinionated. When using reverse psychology on someone, make sure to find out what kind of person they are. But a person always has free will to decide how they choose to act. Even if they have responded to reverse psychology earlier, it is not guaranteed they will do so again.

Why Reverse Psychology is Effective


Reverse psychology, also known as psychoanalysis in reverse, mainly works on resistant people. A simple, direct request works better on compliant people.

Your parents, teachers, or managers at work might have used reverse psychology to get you to do what is good for you or what is needed. This is because the persuasion technique works on certain kinds of people who work differently and need to be handled with diplomacy and some smart skills.

Using Reverse Psychology at Work


At work, certain employees who are very talented and skilled might need a challenge or negative push to perform well. While they might see a challenge initially, once they succeed, they will be as happy as you. In some circumstances, others take a little longer to realize what is needed in a task. If you are patient and employ these reverse psychology tactics gently, you are sure to reap rewards for both of you.

Reverse Psychology Examples


Here are some reverse psychology examples at play in some familiar everyday situations:

  • A mother playfully challenges her son that he cannot finish his breakfast in 10 minutes. She does this so that he doesn’t waste food and miss his school bus. Most children would respond by completing their meal quickly.
  • Since children tend to be stubborn, teachers often use reverse psychology to motivate their students, help them achieve their goals, and teach them valuable life lessons.
  • If your friend or spouse is always late and does not stick to agreed timelines, you need to ensure they respect others’ time. If you challenge them, saying you are sure they will again be late for dinner that evening, they will be determined to be on time, if only to prove a point. But it will be a lesson learned!


When Not to Use Reverse Psychology Techniques


Knowing the psychology of reverse psychology, you should know that it is not beneficial to use reverse psychology in all situations. If you choose to use such a persuasion tactic, keeping the other person and the situation in mind. Sometimes, it can be counter-productive and result in undesirable results. There are many ways to use reverse psychology constructively, for both yourself and others, too.

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Author : United We Care

Founded in 2020, United We Care (UWC) is providing mental health and wellness services at a global level, UWC utilizes its team of dedicated and focused professionals with expertise in mental healthcare, to solve 2 essential missing components in the market, sustained user engagement and program efficacy/outcomes.

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