yes, therapy helps!
Reverse psychology: is it really useful?

Reverse psychology: is it really useful?

June 16, 2024

In our day to day it is usual to talk about reverse psychology . We understand that it is about getting a person to do something telling them to do the opposite. However, we know that not all expressions of ordinary language mean something in psychological terms.

Is there reverse psychology? Is it a myth or a form of real influence? To what extent is it useful? Next we examine what is the psychological interpretation of this phenomenon and we test his persuasive power.

  • Related article: "The 10 most effective persuasion techniques"

What is reverse psychology?

Reverse psychology is a strategic form of social influence . It is a technique of indirect influence that consists in pretending to have a position opposite to what we really have to provoke a reaction in the other that favors us. Let's illustrate it in the following way:


Imagine that you go out to dinner with your partner and you have to decide where. There are two options: restaurant A (a Japanese) and restaurant B (a Mexican). Today you have an appetite for Japanese and you want to convince your partner to go to this one. If you know that your partner is a person who usually tends to accept your proposals, the most appropriate strategy will be a direct approach. Just communicate your preferences and give some argument about it. As a person who usually agrees, the most likely is that you go to Japanese.

However, if you anticipate that your partner is a person who tends to be combative, discuss the decisions you make and difficult to reach agreements with that person, if you communicate your preferences directly can backfire. Instead, it may be a better option to say that you prefer to go to restaurant B and give some weak arguments about it, so that your partner throws them out and you go to restaurant A, your real preference.


We can highlight two main uses of reverse psychology . The first has to do with persuasion, and is as described in the previous example. The objective of this technique is simply to guide the other towards the decision that secretly most appeals to us. The second use has to do with the validation search.

Typically, when we want someone else to approve us about something we have done because we feel insecure, we attack ourselves out loud with verbalizations of the type "this dish has been fatal". This generates in the other a need to disconfirm this information and appease our insecurity.

  • You may be interested: "The Asch conformity experiment: when social pressure can"

Mechanisms of reverse psychology

Reverse psychology is a persuasive technique that works through psychological reactance . Reactance is defined as a reaction that aims to restore freedom or control over a situation when an attack is perceived. Four steps take place in this phenomenon: the person perceives that he has freedom, he perceives an attack against it, the reactance takes place and subsequently the sensation of control and freedom is restored.


Returning to the case of the restaurant, when our partner perceives that we try to persuade her and her free will is threatened, she reacts by opposing us to take control again. In this way, when we anticipate that the psychological reactance will occur, we can plan the direction in which we want the other person to make the decision . This is why we say that reverse psychology is a technique of indirect persuasion.

Practical applications

The situations in which it is possible to use reverse psychology advantageously are numerous. Since it is a form of influence, it is only usable in a social context. For example, it is common to find dynamics that imply reverse psychology in family environments. Families with adolescent children often use this form of influence to introduce intentions in their children that they had not previously contemplated .

Reverse psychology has even therapeutic purposes. We have a variation of this principle in a technique called "paradoxical intention".

In this therapeutic technique, the psychologist prescribes or indicates to the patient the symptom that suffers. For example, in insomnia it is common to make this paradoxical intention by telling the client not to sleep. This fulfills several therapeutic purposes , how to break the blockage that produces beliefs of the type "I can not sleep", besides generating drowsiness through sleep deprivation that will help you fall asleep later on. Interestingly, most patients are unable to endure an entire night without sleep as instructed.

Negative effects of this persuasion technique

Like any form of persuasion, reverse psychology is not an infallible technique . For it to work, there must be a series of preconditions that favor the occurrence. We must know in advance that the person tends to be reactive.

The most belligerent people, in need of control, accustomed to being dominant or usually more emotional tend to perceive these attacks on their freedom. The object or issue on which we want to generate reactance must be relevant to the individual. There is no point in trying to generate opposition on a decision to which the other neither goes nor comes.

There are risks with the use of reverse psychology, as it does not work as it should. It is possible that the person, even if it is belligerent and is a topic that matters, agrees with us right away. Even success in the use of reverse psychology has negative effects. The advantages that are obtained through the influence on the other are not satisfactory because we know that we have obtained them artificially , and this negatively affects the self-concept of oneself.

Many of the situations in which we use this technique are when we want to receive approval from someone else. In people with worse mood, this validation search may lead to questioning the validation source itself , because he knows that this person is not giving his opinion honestly, but through the induced reactance that it generates.

Finally, although it is an influence technique that can work and be useful, it is best to use it only on counted occasions. The victories know artificial and can generate dependence towards external validation, in addition to worsening one's self-esteem by feeling that we are not authentic. It is obvious that the optimal way to build a relationship is not through manipulation, but through honesty with the other.


25 Psychological TRICKS That Really Do WORK (June 2024).


Similar Articles