With reverse psychology we lead the other to do what we want. Pros and cons of a technique that often leads to manipulation.
Everyone has certainly happened to lead the other to do something they wanted, simply by acting or stating the opposite. Or, still do something different than what the other has asked of us and still obtain his consent. Here, in both cases reverse psychology was used.
Reverse psychology: what it is
By reverse psychology, we mean that psychological mechanisms through which someone else is induced to do something different and usually opposite to what they really want. So to do something that actually reflects our desire. It is therefore a mechanism that has a manipulative streak in it, albeit often used successfully and not with bad intentions.
The underlying principle on which it acts is those of reactance or the human tendency to react in the opposite way to what is required by others or by the context (1976, Pennebaker and Sanders). In fact, people tend to be more attracted and intrigued by what is forbidden. They struggle to remain in prohibitions and obligations that limit their autonomy of choice and freedom, thus acting at all costs to assert their free will. By asking or imposing something, one touches an extremely delicate and profound key, which activates even extreme reactions, in order to defend one’s freedom. With reverse psychology, someone else is forced to do something, often without his realizing it, but rather giving the feeling of having chosen in full autonomy. These principles are very visible with adolescents in which the strong desire for freedom and autonomy, which pushes towards independence from parents, often leads them to activate conduct and behaviors opposite to those required by parents. They then activate what is called reactance. Therefore, if we wanted to apply the reverse psychology we would have to “ask” the behavior or in any case give less weight and importance to the behavior we want, thus activating their curiosity towards the desired behavior, in order to transgress and affirm their independence. Obviously, it doesn’t always work and you have to be extremely careful when using it.
How to use it?
As a manipulative mechanism, reverse psychology should always be used cautiously and sparingly, without abusing it. In fact, this can be affected by the other’s self-confidence, security, self-esteem, and a sense of autonomy in choices, as well as the ability to really understand what is correct and what is not, why, and therefore the development of the meaning of responsibility. The use can therefore be activated in small things for which it is important that behavior different from that observed in the other is implemented. An example is used with children. When you want to break a barrier and a constant refusal to do something, for example, do something, eat new food, and so on, and activate a more functional behavior, it happens to resort to reverse psychology. In this case, you can ask the opposite or, better, reduce the importance of the desired behavior. So, for example, he is no longer continually asked to set or eat vegetables every evening … but for example, he does not set the table for him and put the vegetables in the middle of the table, it could happen that if the reverse psychology works, always for the principle of doing the opposite of what others ask, will cook and taste the vegetables. But be careful – it might – it doesn’t necessarily work. In fact, the opposite could also happen, i.e. sustain unwanted behavior. It is therefore always important to make what you want to achieve attractively, but above all to explain the reasons why one behavior rather than another is important. With adults, it is sometimes used in work situations, where you get the desired behavior by making it attractive and showing the loss of value that you would have if you do not activate. Losing the value of something is one of the other principles, together with not wanting to submit to obligations and constraints, which pushes to action, giving a sense of autonomous choice, albeit actually guided by a reverse psychology mechanism. Another area is the relational one, love, and more, in which behaviors opposite to the desired one are activated to attract the other to do what you really want.
Reverse psychology: some attention
Using reverse psychology is not always optimal as it does not always lead to obtaining the results obtained, often risking to fall back on the opposite. It is therefore very important to pay close attention in using this technique and rather leverage the motivation of our interlocutor, why it is important to activate one behavior instead of another, what are the advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, use dialogue and communication, activating if necessary some healthy negotiation, showing oneself open to the other’s point of view and confrontation. In any case, therefore, when implementing reverse psychology it is important to ask oneself why it is used, what is the purpose and whether it is actually adequate or not in achieving, and above all maintaining over time, its goal. Then evaluate with whom you apply it and the level of effectiveness of the strategy. It has been observed that the greater the desire for freedom and autonomy of choice of the other, the greater the tendency to reactance and therefore probably the effectiveness of reverse psychology. Furthermore, the level of safety itself is another variable that plays an important role. The important thing is to keep in mind the effects of this manipulative technique on the other, on the sense of self and self-esteem, as well as on the real positive effect of intent, and then act ethically and responsibly.