What is Reverse Psychology?

What is Reverse Psychology?

There is nothing as attractive as forbidden fruit. Children love to break the rules. Adults also seem to enjoy skipping warnings and taboos, although subconsciously.

Did you know that often macabre health warnings on cigarette packages can really make smokers want to smoke more?


  • 1 What is Reverse Psychology?
  • 2 How does reverse psychology work?
  • 3 Reverse Psychology in neuromarketing
  • 4 We are attracted to the forbidden
  • 5 When reverse psychology works best
  • 6 Other uses of Reverse Psychology

What is reverse psychology?

Reverse Psychology is a psychological technique that is based on defending a belief or behavior opposite to the desired one, with the intention that this approach encourages the subject to whom we are going to do what we really want: the opposite of what we are suggesting.

Basically it is to persuade someone by stating the opposite of what we want them to do or say, in the hope that it will challenge our stated wishes, thus offering us what we really want.

This technique is based on the psychological phenomenon of reactance, in which a person has a negative emotional reaction to being persuaded, and therefore choose the option that is being defended against. The one who is being manipulated is usually not aware of what is really happening.

How does reverse psychology work?

Reverse psychology play with a person's desire for independence and subtly conveys the idea that it can be independent in defiance of the other's wishes. For this reason, it is most commonly used with children who wish to express their independence by rebelling against their parents.


Some parents know that sometimes the best strategy for their children to do something, is to tell them otherwise, such as staying at home when they really want to decide to go outside to play. Another example is to say "I bet you can't catch me", to be chased by the child.

In paradoxical marketing it is usually used through the anti-marketing maneuver; In a world where all things are expected to be available ... offering less availability of a particular product has become a new sales strategy: the more a brand is restricted, the more prestige it gains. The result may be what the Japanese call a secret brand, where there are no regular points of sale, there is no catalog, there is no web presence, apart from some cryptic mentions. People like this because it is almost impossible to find the product in question and it becomes something really "exclusive."

Reverse Psychology in neuromarketing

In marketing we also use, as we have seen in the example, reverse psychology for attract the attention of reluctant or tired customers of conventional advertising.

As in everything, studies have been done in this regard. One of the most interesting is the one that was done with children to see their preferences on toys.

Study conducted with children and toys

To carry out this study, a group of children (group A) was selected and they were urged to play with different toys without any previous rules. The children could freely choose the toys they wanted to play with and put aside the others. After choosing, it was observed which toy was the least attractive to the children of this first group. Parallel to a second different group of children (group B), they were told to play with all available toys, except for the one that had been less attractive for the first sample group.

Interestingly, those in the second group mostly chose the “forbidden” toy over all the others much more frequently than those in the first group. Being thus demonstrated how the "forbidden" exerts a huge attraction on the subjects.

We are attracted to the forbidden

Although the experiment was conducted with children, it seems that adults are not so different.

It has been shown that people find the most desirable things when they are out of bounds or prohibited. There is something in human nature that wants what it cannot have.

This hypothesis is based on another psychological theory called "ironic process model". This model suggests that in trying to suppress thoughts about something, we will cause that something to be more and more present. I mean, that The more we try not to think about something, the more we think about it.

It may interest you: The attractiveness of the forbidden

When reverse psychology works best

Apparently, people who are rather "conformist" respond well (or even better) to direct requests versus indirect ones. On the contrary, people who are very resistant to change tend to show considerable opposition to simple or direct requests, and traditional demand strategies generally do not work and may even be counterproductive. This is where reverse psychology can be of great help.

On the other hand, reverse psychology is usually more effective with people who have a high need to show that they control their lives. For example, rebellious teenagers who naturally do the opposite of what their parents say are classic whites, the same goes for narcissistic personalities, who always want to be right.

Other uses of Reverse Psychology

Although it contains the term "psychology", reverse psychology is not truly a therapeutic tool, for the simple fact that therapists do not try to force their wishes on other people.

Reverse psychology it is used much more as a marketing and sales tool. Sellers can make consumers want to have something convincing them that buying a certain product is something that goes out of the norm, or that is original, even countercultural ...

A classic use of reverse psychology is a ploy, such as: "Don't press this button!", Which has been used repeatedly in comedy, television and movie sketches. A viral video Youtube 2012 used precisely this approach to announce the TNT television network in Belgium. A bright red button was placed in the middle of a city with numerous passersby who were encouraged not to touch it. When someone pressed the button, a series of increasingly dramatic events followed one another, culminating in an announcement for the TNT.