What Is Reverse Psychology: A Complete Overview

What is reverse psychology?

Reverse psychology is, by definition, a technique that is used to convince someone to do something by telling them the opposite of what you want them to do. Its primary purpose is to persuade people to do something they might not otherwise consider, such as eating their vegetables or engaging in other behavior generally regarded as beneficial.

While this technique can be effective under certain circumstances, it can also backfire and lead to unintended negative consequences if misused or with people who are resistant to persuasion. As such, it is essential to use reverse psychology sparingly and only with those individuals who you are confident will respond positively to your attempts at persuasion.

Key Points

  • What Is Reverse Psychology
  • Signs of Reverse Psychology
  • Examples
    • In the Workplace
    • In Sales
    • In Marketing
    • In Teaching
    • In Parenting
    • In Relationships
    • In Pop Culture
  • How to Use Reverse Psychology
  • How to Counter Reverse Psychology
  • Impacts
  • Our Takeaway

What Is Reverse Psychology

We can define reverse psychology, also known as reverse conditioning, as a form of persuasion that involves using statements or actions against an individual to elicit a desired response or outcome. This can induce the desired response from others to gain insight into hidden motivations or test someone’s assumptions about another person. It works exceptionally well on people prone to reactance.

The term reverse psychology can also be used more broadly to refer to any situation where an individual intentionally acts in a manner that counters their instincts to achieve a goal. While reverse psychology typically relies on subtle cues and manipulation of favorable odds for success, some situations can be more overt in nature, such as when someone makes an outlandish bet or prediction to provoke the desired reaction from others. 

Ultimately, reverse psychology is an effective tool for eliciting new information about ourselves and others and has been shown to lead to improved performance and greater overall satisfaction in both professional and personal relationships.

Signs of Reverse Psychology

Signs of reverse psychology are often subtle and difficult to discern. It may seem like someone using reverse psychology states their opinion or defends a position from the outside. However, there are several ways to tell if someone engages in this type of manipulation.

They may deploy tactics such as suggesting an alternative solution or giving the other person an opportunity to back down before escalating an argument.

In addition, they may present their opinions vaguely or ambiguously, crafting sentences that require the other person to do some mental work to make sense of them.

Finally, they may be acting out of care and concern for the other person’s well-being rather than trying to manipulate them for personal gain. Ultimately, determining whether or not someone is using reverse psychology can be tricky, but it is possible to recognize these signs and respond accordingly with time and practice.

What Are Examples of Reverse Psychology

Reverse psychology can take many different forms. Still, all examples share one common goal: getting the other person to do something they would not normally do.

Reverse psychology typically appears in many spheres of life, including:

  • In the workplace
  • In relationships and dating
  • In parenting
  • In popular culture

Let’s look at some examples of reverse psychology in each situation.

In the Workplace

If you want your coworker to stop leaving their coffee mug on your desk, you might tell them that you need them to leave it there. In most cases, the person will do the opposite of what they’ve been asked, resulting in the desired outcome.

While reverse psychology can be practical, it’s important to use it sparingly and carefully. If it’s used too often, people will catch on, and it will lose its effectiveness. Additionally, it can backfire if not used correctly. For example, if you tell your boss that you don’t think you’re qualified for a promotion, they may agree and decide not to give it to you. Therefore, it’s important to use reverse psychology thoughtfully and only in cases where you’re reasonably confident it will work.

In Sales

Salespeople have long used reverse psychology to close deals. The basic idea is to sound like you’re trying to convince customers that they don’t want what you’re selling. For example, a car salesperson might tell a potential buyer that the model they’re interested in is almost sold out, even if it’s not. The logic is that the customer will feel like they need to act fast to get the car they want.

While this approach can sometimes be effective, it can also backfire. Customers may resent being manipulated, and they may end up going elsewhere. In addition, reverse psychology can be challenging to execute effectively, as there is a fine line between convincing someone they want something and convincing them they don’t like it.

In Marketing

Marketers use reverse psychology to influence the decisions of their customers. By tempting people with something they know they should resist, marketers hope to build an association between a particular product and the idea of self-control. This can be very effective, mainly when used with other marketing techniques like social proof or fear appeals.

However, some experts caution that reverse psychology may not always be effective since there is a risk that people will see through the strategy and reject it outright. Despite this potential pitfall, reverse psychology remains an integral part of paradoxical marketing strategies and is often combined with other techniques for maximum impact.

In Teaching

Reverse psychology is often used in teaching. For example, a teacher might tell a student that they are not allowed to do a particular activity. The student then believes that they want to do the activity, so they do it. This reverse psychology technique can effectively get students to engage in activities that they might otherwise find uninteresting.

Another way reverse psychology can be used in teaching is by giving students rewards for engaging in certain activities. For example, a teacher might give a student a piece of candy if they answer a question correctly. The student then associates the action with something positive and is more likely to do it again.

Reverse psychology can be an effective tool for teachers to use when trying to engage students in learning. However, it should be used sparingly and carefully, as it can backfire if overused or misused.

In Parenting

If a parent wants their child to eat their vegetables, they might say, “if you don’t eat your broccoli, you can’t have any dessert.” In this case, the parent uses reverse psychology by giving the child an incentive to do the desired behavior (eating their broccoli) by offering them something they want (dessert). While this approach can sometimes be practical, it should be used sparingly.

If reverse psychology is used too often, children may catch on and become resistant to it. It’s essential to ensure that the rewards or incentives associated with the desired behavior are something that the child wants. Otherwise, reverse psychology will not be effective.

In Relationships

In any close relationship, there are bound to be disagreements. And when tensions are high, it can be tempting to resort to manipulative tactics to get what you want. This is where reverse psychology comes in. By telling your partner what you don’t want them to do, you’re increasing their likelihood of doing it. For example, if you’re arguing about who should take out the trash, you might say, “Fine, I can do it this time.” The hope is that your partner will respond with “No, I’ll do it,” and voila—problem solved.

When two people are in a romantic relationship, disagreement and conflict can sometimes become issues. However, reverse psychology can be an effective way to rekindle the passion and spark that characterized the relationship at the beginning. By challenging your partner with statements or actions that may initially appear to be criticism or anger but are meant to elicit a positive response, you can effectively re-engage them and remind them how much they care about you.

Reverse psychology in dating works exceptionally well if you allow your partner to believe that they have influenced your actions somehow and if they feel like they have won an argument or come out on top in some way. This technique can be a powerful tool for reigniting the sparks of romance and passion between two people in love.

In Pop Culture

A red button with the words “Do not push” next to it or a sign that reads “Jump at your own risk” are examples of classic reverse psychology in mass media.

When it comes to reverse psychology in fiction, film, and cartoons, William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a great example—Mark Antony uses it to get the people of Rome to riot. By praising Brutus’ accomplishments in having caused Caesar’s death, Mark Antony effectively incites the crowd’s fury.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor employs reverse psychology to get Fortunato to enter his vaults. He suggests that Fortunato take some rest and find someone else to assist him with his wine tasting issue. Montresor was confident that Fortunato would refuse, as he insisted on getting into the vault, dying by immurement as a result.

How to Use Reverse Psychology

One thing is sure: reverse technology techniques can be compelling when used correctly. So how can you use reverse psychology effectively to achieve your goals?

First and foremost, it is crucial to understand what reverse psychology is and how it works. Essentially, this involves acting or speaking in a way that directly contradicts the desired outcome, which then triggers an impulse response in your audience where they make the opposite choice to the one you want them to make. Some common examples include telling someone not to do something to get them to do it or saying something negative to reinforce positive behavior.

Once you understand how reverse psychology works, you can start incorporating it into your interactions with other people.

It is essential to be strategic in your approach when using reverse psychology tricks. It would be best to use reverse psychology only when reasonably confident that it will produce the desired effect. Additionally, it is essential not to overuse this tactic. Doing so can backfire and cause people to notice what you’re up to or assume you’re coming from a manipulative place.

How to Counter Reverse Psychology

People use reverse psychology on others to get what they want. While it can be an effective tactic in some situations, it can also backfire if not used correctly. If you find yourself on the receiving end of reverse psychology, there are a few ways to counter it.

First, try to identify the real motives behind the other person’s words or actions. If they are trying to manipulate you into doing something, calling them out on it can help to diffuse the situation.

Second, resist the urge to do the opposite of what they want you to do. This will only play into their hands and give them the satisfaction of knowing they have control over you.

Finally, try to stay calm and collected. Getting angry or upset will only give them power over you and make them more likely to succeed in getting what they want.

Impact of Reverse Psychology

The impact of reverse psychology is multifaceted and can take many different forms depending on the situation in which it is employed. Conversely, reverse psychology can question individuals’ assumptions about themselves or a specific problem. If a person appears stubbornly resistant to a particular idea or course of action, their resolve may be broken by being told they shouldn’t want it or show interest in it. This indirectly encourages them to explore those things they previously resisted, allowing them to learn more about themselves and experience new ideas.

On another level, reverse psychology can also affect interpersonal relationships. Rather than telling someone what you expect from them directly—like an offhand comment or expectation – you may subtly suggest something opposite instead. This can lead to changes in how the other person behaves, sometimes encouraging surprising and unanticipated actions for an unexpected outcome. Ultimately, the impact of reverse psychology depends on the situation at hand and how it is used effectively by those involved. Whether skilled individuals utilize this strategy to foster self-discovery or as a tool to create shifts in social interactions, its efficacy cannot be denied.

What is Reverse Psychology: Our Takeaway

Reverse psychology is one of the most exciting and complex psychological phenomena out there—by some even considered a form of paradoxical intervention. At its core, reverse psychology encourages people to do the opposite of what you expect them to do. This can be a very effective technique for motivating change or challenging harmful beliefs, but it can also be tricky to use correctly.

To be successful at using reverse psychology, you need to consider the logic behind people’s decisions and the mental and emotional factors that guide their behavior. In short, reverse psychology is a powerful tool—but it requires skill and finesses to wield effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is reverse psychology manipulation?


There is much debate about whether reverse psychology can be classified as manipulation. Some argue that using reverse psychology to influence others, such as convincing someone not to do something they want to do, is inherently deceptive and manipulative.

However, others maintain that a person must have malign intent to be genuinely manipulative, which is not always the case when using reverse psychology. They claim that reverse psychology can benefit both the manipulator and the person being influenced when used correctly and for good reasons. Ultimately, the distinction between manipulation and reverse psychology is often a matter of intent and perception.

When is reverse psychology harmful?


While reverse psychology is often used as a playful tool, there are times when it can be harmful. If someone is constantly using reverse psychology on you, it can create feelings of doubt and insecurity.

In addition, reverse psychology can manipulate people into doing things that they wouldn’t normally do. For example, a person who knows what is reverse psychology and how to use it might try to convince a friend to drink alcohol, even if the friend doesn’t want to. In these cases, reverse psychology can have harmful consequences. Therefore, it is essential to use reverse psychology sparingly and only with people you trust.