Reverse Psychology: Definition And How To Use It

We find out what reverse psychology is, what it is for and how we can use it in a practical way.
Reverse psychology is a technique that consists of defending an opposite behavior to the one we want in the other person.

 

One of the things we are most attracted to is when we are forbidden to do something. Children like to break established rules and adults like to skip warnings and try what we are told not to do.

Reverse psychology is based on this attraction to the forbidden, which most of the time manifests itself unconsciously to us. Below we tell you how reverse psychology works, what this technique is and what it is for.

Reverse psychology definition

Reverse psychology is a psychology technique that focuses on defending an opposite behaviour to the one we want so that, with this approach, the subject is encouraged to do what we really want them to do, which is the opposite of what we are proposing. 

It consists of persuading a person telling them the opposite of what we want them to do, with the desire that this defies our proposal, thereby achieving what we really want.

Reverse psychology is based on the reactance psychological process, in which a person manifests an adverse reaction to being persuaded and, for this reason, chooses the opposite option to the one being considered. This person who is being manipulated is usually not aware that he or she is being manipulated.

How does it work?

Reverse psychology is based on a person's desire for freedom and subtly conveys to them the idea that they can be independent of each other's desires. For this reason, this technique is often used with children, who often try to express their independence by rebelling against the orders of their parents.

Reverse psychology example

In many occasions, parents know that the best way for their children to do what they are told is to propose the opposite. For instance, when we ask them to stay at home when what we really want is that they go outside to play. 

Another example of the use of this psychologic technique is telling them: "you can't catch me", so they can end up catching us. 

Reverse psychology is an efficient and effective technique when negotiating with children.

 

What is it used for?

Reverse psychology serves to get what we want without the other person realizing that they are doing what we want. This technique is applied to specific profiles of people in whom this method works best.

People usually respond better to direct requests, formulated affirmatively. However, when we want to persuade people who resist suggestions or change, this technique is a good ally.

Reverse psychology is also often used in people who express opposition to direct and simple demands. Traditional application strategies do not usually work and can be counterproductive.

Also, it is also useful for people who need to demonstrate that they have control of their lives. An example of this group is rebellious teenagers who do the opposite of what their parents say.

This technique is also used with proud and stubborn people because if you tell them that they don't know how to do something, they will undoubtedly want to prove you wrong. The same goes for narcissistic people, who always want to be right.

An excellent example of these cases: "I don't think you can make your bed during the whole week" or "I bet you don't eat your vegetables for dinner". It is essential to be specific with what we want to achieve, so if we use "make the bed" is better than saying "be tidy."

Another group of subjects in which it usually works is those who manifest a tantrum or anger. When the individual is angry or furious, he or she is often not so rational, and reverse psychology may work.

In all these cases, we must ensure that we do not put the person's self-esteem at risk, since by provoking them by saying that they are not capable of doing something, if they try and do not succeed, they may feel frustrated and the situation may worsen.

How to use reverse psychology

There are many ways of using it, but they must all be based on the idea that the subject has to feel they have control and that no one is putting any pressure on them to do something.

1. Surrendering and agreeing

Imagine you have been arguing with your son for a while because you want him to tidy his bedroom. What would happen if you told him: "Ok, you win, do not tidy your room ever again"?

2. Saying the opposite of what you're saying

Going back to the previous example, we tell the child that it is better not to tidy up his room, because then when someone comes home and sees his room, he will realize how tidy and clean the rest of the house is compared to his room.

A technique in reverse psychology is to say the opposite of what you want to say.

 

3. Provoking

It usually works with arrogant people. For instance: Look, it doesn't matter, don't tidy up your room, you don't even know how to do it", "I'm sure you don't tidy your room up because you don't know how to be a tidy person" and "I bet you can't keep your room tidy for a whole week".

4. Creating mystery or curiosity

This technique usually works with small children and is also widely used in advertising. For example, to say severely: "Above all, do not open this box" without explaining why.

5. Giving alternatives

We give the opportunity to decide so that the person feels less pressure. For example: Do you want to tidy up the room or clean the bathroom? What do you want to do first? Put on your pyjamas or brush your teeth?