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Reverse Psychology – Changing Minds, Converting Attitudes

Reverse Psychology – Changing Minds, Converting Attitudes

Updated on May 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

What is Reverse Psychology and How Does It Work

Have you ever tried persuading someone by asking them to do something opposite of what is expected from them? Maybe you did it many times, but unknowingly. This concept is called reverse psychology.

It is an intentional and deliberate way to condition someone’s thoughts and feelings and make them do the desired action, the way you want.

The technique seems confusing at first and even goes unnoticed when it happens. It is therefore helpful to examine the concept closely by how it is used? And why does it work so well?

So, let’s get started

Reverse Psychology Infographics

How To Use Reverse Psychology (10 Steps)
How To Use Reverse Psychology (10 Steps)
People with Whom Reverse Psychology Can Be Used Effectively
People with Whom Reverse Psychology Can Be Used Effectively

What is Reverse Psychology?

Reverse psychology is a persuasive technique by which the desired behavior is established by telling the person to think and act in opposite ways.

Reverse psychology is a form of manipulation. It is a process where you want somebody to do a particular thing or behave in a certain way, but you know that the person will not do it, even if persuaded many times or said nicely. 

In such cases, you say just the opposite of what you expect from them. You will find what you wanted them to do is already done.

The theory holds well because you trick someone and condition their minds to act in certain ways. The concept was first conceptualized by Adorns and Horkheimer. It is called “Psychoanalysis in reverse”.

When you tell someone to do the opposite of the actual desired behavior, they get attracted to the challenge and try to prove their worth. 

Thus, psychologists call this technique ‘strategic self anti-conformity.’ It means human beings feel tempted to do something if they are told not to do that thing.

How Does Reverse Psychology Work?

Reverse psychology works on reactance theory developed by Prof. Jeff Greenberg, social psychology specialist at the University of Arizona.

The psychological phenomenon of reactance states that human beings always possess an innate desire to protect their freedom. 

It means that when they feel threatened by being taken away from their available choices, they feel helpless and thus can do anything to protect it. 

Reactance is unpleasant motivational arousal that triggers specific behaviors and supports reverse psychology.

When you are told or ordered to do something by somebody else, you feel that your choices are reduced and your freedom is being taken away from you. Thereby, it refers to the idea that you will always want those things when told you cannot have it.

In reverse psychology, you are convinced to do something or abide by some rule or desired action in a roundabout way. You will act in a manner that will oppose the resistance presented to you. 

Examples to show how ‘reverse psychology’ works :

  1. If a child doesn’t finish his daily breakfast and tends to waste food everyday; you tell the child not to eat and leave the table. Here, the child feels that even the given choices will be taken away from him. He reacts instantly by eating the food already offered and shall abide by the rule.
  2. You have a friend who is always late for lunch and makes you wait all the time. One day you tell her “I bet you cannot arrive before 6 pm in the evening. This statement will motivate her and condition her mindset to do the opposite and be on time to prove you wrong.
    This is a classic example of reverse psychology where you motivate someone to behave in a desired way by telling them to do the opposite of it.

Is It Good or Bad To Use Reverse Psychology?

Truly speaking, reverse psychology is a paradoxical concept. Its efficacy should always be judged according to the situation it is used and the intention behind it. 

As it is a form of persuasion, the good part of it is you can make the other person act and behave the way you want.

Contrary, the technique is not recommended because of the effects it might have on the victim if applied incorrectly. 

It is a type of psychological manipulation and if you are caught in applying it the relationship between you and the person can end at once. 

Thus, the bad side of reverse psychology is that it damages relationships and ruins friendships often beyond recovery.

If you overuse it, the victim may predict your plans and might not get convinced. They may feel cheated as well.

Positive effects of using reverse psychology

The benefits of using this mind hacking tool are:

  1. You can easily convince resistant people to comply with your wishes and make them act in desirable ways.
  2. Parents can use this method on their children to teach good habits and break the wrong behavior patterns.
  3. Reverse psychology helps you to become flexible in your thinking, feeling, and perspectives.
  4.  It can help stubborn individuals to learn new ways of maintaining amicable relationships.

Negative effects of reverse psychology

The demerits of using this technique are:

  1. It can ruin personal relationships and damage trust forever.
  2. If you are caught, the victim may feel insulted and humiliated, thereby showing negative emotional feelings against you.
  3. The victim may not forgive you for the misdeeds done.
  4. The procedure can backfire on you and leave a bad taste in your mouth forever.

How To Use Reverse Psychology? (10 Steps)

Reverse psychology doesn’t work with everyone. People who are prone to reactance are more inclined towards it. A few steps on how to use reverse psychology are as follows:

1. Know the personality types that respond well to this technique

People with a rigid mindset and resistant personality can easily be manipulated by using the technique of reverse psychology.

So, know the type of person you are dealing with. You need to understand whether the person concerned is readily agreeable and free-flowing with the available options or tends to resist it.

If they are resistant, stubborn you can use persuasion more easily and make them comply with their wishes.

2. Try to read the mind of the person

Before using the technique of reverse psychology, you should know what the person actually wants and why? This mind-reading gives you a clue about whether the trick can be applied or not.

3. Present an option to the concerned person

To start with, you need to implant an option in the person’s mind. It could be anything that the person usually resists. 

For Example: – you and your partner are deciding between two movies worth watching on a Friday night and you want to convince him for the one you wish to see. Put both the options in front of him. 

Tell him that your choice is to see a romantic comedy, knowing that he is more into a murder thriller. Start by highlighting all the good points about romantic comedy. Say that your friend suggests that it’s a must-watch movie.

4. Use subtle hints to make the alternative more alluring

In this stage, you will use subtle ways to manipulate and persuade the person. You will talk about all the good points of watching a romantic comedy as opposed to a thriller. This helps to plant seeds of interest and attraction towards the other alternative.

Your husband may take a keen interest and start to reconsider his choice.

5. Usage of non-verbal cues

Show a few promotional scenes from the movie to your partner and try to manipulate his thoughts in desirable ways. You can even remind him of your first romantic date and how you people enjoyed it.

Try to make your desired option as attractive as possible and force the other person to think about it.

6. Show initial discouragement and argue against the option

In this stage, start by showing an initial dejection or argue against your preferred option. You can tell your partner to drop the idea of seeing the comedy movie till next weekend. 

This initial ‘no’ from you gives an extra nudge to manipulate his thoughts and feelings. As he is a little hesitant about which one to choose from, he will look into the choices more closely. 

If you pull back at this point, chances are that your resistant husband may likely accept it; because he feels that his freedom of choice is taken away from him.

7. Ask the individual to make a final decision

Here, you are asking or pushing the person to arrive at a decision. You can ask him politely about the two movies. 

Try to read his mind, just to know how much persuasion still needs to be done. Manipulate the situation in such a way that it looks like he is making the decision. 

Tell him it’s his choice and decision that you are looking at. If you do this, your husband feels assertive and likely to abide by the choice made by you.

8. Review your goal

You need to keep your end goal in mind and be aware of what you want the other person to do. Avoid having any heated arguments and keep calm. Push your desires in a light-hearted way to motivate the other person to make the choice that you want.

9. Overuse of reverse psychology should be avoided

As this is a manipulative technique, do not overdo it. Be slow in your approach and structure the situation in such a way that gives the other person a chance to decide for himself. Overuse of the process can damage the relationship forever.

10. Be congruent and re-affirm your decision

Once the procedure is done successfully, the last step would be to stick to the decision arrived at. Avoid having any more arguments on the topic. Your objective was to present the other person with a different frame of mind and persuade him in a different way.

Once this is done; do not leave space for any more arguments and discussions. Be clear and congruent with the decision and keep it as it is.

Reverse Psychology Examples

Reverse psychology tells the individual to prohibit an action, thereby motivating them to do it in acceptable ways. A few classic examples are as follows:

Example 1

You want your spouse to take you for a candlelight dinner over the weekend which you know will be rejected outright; as his weekends are full of other commitments and spending time with his extended family. 

You can use the method of reverse psychology to convince him. You tell him about both the options and what you want. Then wait for his answer. Play a trick and insist on not going to the dinner and postpone it for the upcoming week. 

In this way, set the tone and implant the idea into his mind. Talk about the various problems like ‘where to go?’ and ‘where to put the kids? ‘You will see him change his mind and come up with an innovative idea to sort out things your way and readily agree to it.

Example 2

It’s Eliza’s birthday today. Her brother Joe has not bought her a nice present. Their father suggests that Joe has not got the gift because Eliza fights with him, is quite stingy, and interferes in his personal matters.

It makes the brother give a thought to it and bring a birthday present for his sister.

Example 3

Heidi never helps her mother with housework. She is lazy and lives life her own way. Her mother wants to change her behavior. She uses reverse psychology. The mother tricked her and told her to take enough rest for the day and not to get bothered with studies or housework. 

Her mother told her that she has enough to do and cannot attend Heidi’s parent’s day program in school coming soon. This made Heidi feel that the first option of studying and working at home is better than the mother not attending her school program.

Instantly, you may find Heidi offering help to her mother.

Reverse Psychology in Relationships

Reverse psychology should be used with caution in case of close relationships; because if used incorrectly can damage the bond forever.

It is a persuasive psychological tool that can be used to influence people’s thoughts and make them do things the way they want.

1. Children

Parents often use reverse psychology as a tool to teach good habits, discipline, and moral code of conduct to their children. Children are little resistant by nature and have a tendency to defy authority. 

It is difficult to change their mindset, make them follow rules, and make them do an action appropriately. 

A classic example is maybe you tell your 12-year-old to eat as much junk food as he can till his stomach goes awry. The only thing to add is to say “I shall not take you for a doctor visit if things go wrong. I am not bothered if you ruin your health”.

This statement provokes the boy to think of his habits and adopt good ones that are expected.

2. Spouse

Reverse psychology is used in spouse relationships to make them agree to your wishes. It holds good for dominant and resistant spouses who are less flexible in nature. 

They are reluctant to change their habits and are difficult to persuade. You may nag, fight or use other means to get things across but all fails eventually. In such a circumstance, convincing your spouse can only happen by playing safe tricks; without them knowing it. 

An example is – you want your husband to help you arrange the house for a party. He hates it and puts everything on you. What to do in such a situation? You can use mind tricks and play safe. 

You tell him that you will let him be and never nag on anything. When guests will come, they need to adjust with the minimal arrangements being done. Your husband may feel that his friends are coming, and the house is in a mess. 

His overinflated ego cannot take this and his need for control over the situation makes reverse psychology an easier option for you. He eventually offers help in a subtle way and the trick becomes successful.

3. Lovers and companions

Reverse psychology can be an underhand tactic when applied in intimate love relationships. You should never try to manipulate your partner to do something for your benefit.

But yes, if it is done to bring out the best of something, it works well. If your partner is a sensitive person, it could bring negative outcomes as well.

People with Whom Reverse Psychology Can Be Used Effectively

This strategy is usually used with stiff and inflexible people who are not open to change or persuasion. These fixed mindset people are hard to be conformed to. The theory works well with them.

1. Narcissists

Narcissists are the people who are overthoughtful about themselves and do not care much about the well-being of others. The technique can be used to manipulate them and force them to comply with the wishes of others.

They can easily get agitated because of their inflated ego and can do things to prove their abilities and justify others wrong.

2. Overconfident individuals

Overconfident people are rigid and less compliant by nature because they think that they are the best and whatever they do is absolutely right. They are susceptible to reverse psychology.

It can be used to make them hear the other side of the story and force them to take advice or comply with the suggestions of others.

3. Stubborn people

These guys do not change their ideas, thoughts, and perspectives easily. They usually hold a fixed mindset that is rigid and resists change. Reverse psychology can be used to make them compliant by supporting their views and bringing the desired change.

4. People having less willpower

People with poor determination and less willpower feel weak and inadequate. They feel inferior to others and often take suggestions from one and all; before arriving at a decision.

Reverse psychology can be used to nurture their ideas and thoughts; to make them confident and believe in their self-worth. It helps to reduce their confusion and wrong decisions.

The link given below shows ‘how does reverse psychology work?’

Situational Usage of Reverse Psychology

Reverse psychology is used to motivate an individual to act in your favor, simply by intentional advocacy of an opposite action of what you desired.

It is a paradoxical tool for mind reprogramming in various situations.

1. Workplaces

Reverse psychology can be used by managers to make their team members think and act in certain desirable ways. It can also be used to gain promotions or pay hikes. Stubborn team members can be manipulated to get things done.

Example – A boss may tell his employee that he doesn’t think that the assignment can be completed within time by the concerned person; so he is planning to put it on somebody else. The employee will take this as a challenge and finish the assignment on time.

2. Marketing and sales

This technique is widely used by salesmen who want to sell their products to their customers. They use it to convince the buyers by saying things like ‘hurry, only two hours of the best deal is left.’ 

They also try to persuade buyers by offering affordable packages or EMI schemes to close a particular deal. The strategy is formulated in such a way as to maneuver control over the decision-making process of the customer.

3. Dating and love relationships

Nagging and constant thought-provoking ways may not always work to persuade others in love relationships. When you play silent tricks to condition your partner’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings; you motivate them to do things needed to maintain healthy relationships.

4. Teenagers and children

Kids and teenagers have an innate desire to retaliate and rebel against parental control. To make kids do things inappropriate ways, reverse psychology can play a part. Young children and teenagers are usually defiant.

Thus, instead of telling them ‘what to do?’ you tell them that you don’t think they are capable of doing a particular task. Any negative statements will be taken as a challenge and the task will be done, just to prove you wrong.

Tips To Master Reverse Psychology

If you want to become a pro in using reverse psychology, you will have to master the art. We have a few tips for you; to help you sail smoothly in the process.

  • Try to understand the character traits of the person. Over-confident, rigid and emotional people are more prone to reverse psychology tricks.
  • Create a situation where you can make the other person feel that they are making their own choices and decisions. Say and do things that are counterproductive to what you want. 
  • Always stay calm and composed. Avoid nagging and try to pick up emotional cues from the person and make it work in your favor.
  • Keep your end objective in mind; so that you can condition the concerned person and bring all conversations to the same point of what you are trying to get across.
  • Challenge the person in a negative way by saying that they cannot do it. You should sound convincing. Insist on a contrary argument and manipulate them to act in desirable ways.
  • Do some self practice through mock sessions, before applying it with the target individual.
  • Continue doing it until you have convinced the person to comply with what you wanted. Then only the technique becomes successful.
  • Always use it positively to bring good results for you and the person. If you hurt the person emotionally or try to play with their trust, the technique can backfire and the relationship can suffer a setback.

Ethical Issues in Using Reverse Psychology

The theory of reverse psychology holds good in our daily lives in a number of ways. Its efficacy is determined by ethics and moral codes that one needs to follow.

If the technique is used on someone for their betterment and teaches ideal ways of behaving, as used by parents on their children; we can consider it as ethical. 

On the contrary, if the motive is to manipulate someone to do something not worthy; it will leave a bad taste in the mouth forever. 

If the victim feels resentful and anguished, it will be an unethical practice. You cannot threaten someone to do something against their wish. It too is unethical.

Thus, the trick lies in using it with caution and expertise. It should challenge the victim to bring out their best self. It should bring positive transformation and the victim should not feel hurt or humiliated.

The link given below mentions the procedure of using reverse psychology on men.

ways to use reverse psychology on men

Parting Words

So, are you someone who easily gets motivated or needs a dose of reverse psychology to make things happen and arrive at consensus decisions? If yes, then you can become a victim of the sneaky hacking tool that is quite popular in daily life.

The best part is the technique is used widely to alter minds and convert attitudes.

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