What Is The Science Behind Reverse Psychology?

There are a few paths that one can take when trying to get a person to do something. Regardless of what it is we may want someone else to do, we may try tactics like negotiation, reasoning, or even directly asking. One neat trick often used to get someone to do what we want is reverse psychology. Whether you desire someone to lend you something, for a child to help clean the house, or possibly something far more nefarious, reverse psychology can come into play.

Merriam-Webster defines reverse psychology as "a method of getting someone to do what one wants by pretending not to want it or by pretending to want something else." For example, telling a child, they can't clean the house might prompt them to want to clean the house. So reverse psychology can clearly be a useful tool depending on what you'd like to accomplish. Though it doesn't always work, and sometimes, when the targeted person becomes aware of the reverse psychology attempt, it can create an uncomfortable situation. However, there are countless times when the use of reverse psychology has gone off without a hitch. So what's the science behind it?

Reverse psychology and reverse reverse psychology take manipulation

Reverse psychology is partnered with the theory of reactance as published in Effectiviology. This theory refers to the idea that when someone feels their freedom is at risk, they will react in a way to reassert those freedoms. In this case, it leads to the result desired by the person using reverse psychology. Those whose minds are in an emotional or angry state may be more likely to react favorably to those using reverse psychology.

A few ways to put reverse psychology into practice include questioning someone's ability to execute whatever it is you're trying to get them to do, and discouraging whatever it is you want them to do. For some, if they're made to feel like they can't accomplish something, they'll only want to accomplish it even more. Reverse psychology has also been referred to as paradoxical intervention, which is defined as altering "the self-sustaining nature of a symptom by interrupting the reinforcing feedback loops that maintain it through engaging in opposite behavior" (perĀ Science Direct).

There's also another form of this tactic known as reverse reverse psychology. This technique is used by trying to get the target person to believe you are using reverse psychology on them. You tell them to do one thing, and they think you want them to do the opposite, so they do exactly what you wanted them to do in the first place.

Reverse psychology doesn't work on everyone

Reverse psychology can be useful for simple everyday tasks like trying to get a toddler to eat their vegetables. However, it is still a form of manipulation, and things can get awkward if someone realizes you're trying to use it on them to get them to do what you want. In addition, the use of reverse psychology runs the risk of damaging personal relationships and creating tension and suspicion in future conversations.

While some are more susceptible to the effects of reverse psychology, there's no real way to tell whether it will work or not before trying it. According to Live Science, toddlers and teenagers are more likely to exhibit the reactance necessary for reverse psychology to work. This is because of their extremes of an emotional and rebellious nature. If they realize what you're up to, though, it may not be the most pleasant childhood memory. So if you do attempt reverse psychology, be sure you have a backup plan just in case whoever you're trying it out on realizes what you're trying to do.