How to Apply Reverse Psychology

How to Apply Reverse Psychology

Last update: 19 July, 2021

Surely you’ve used reverse psychology at some point, even if you aren’t or weren’t conscious of the power it holds. Basically you adopt a position in an argument so the other person will adopt the opposing one. 

The experts in taking the opposite stance are teenagers. When they’re in the middle of establishing their persona and identity, if there’s one thing they hate, it’s being conditioned or told what to do. So, to avoid that feeling, they often opt for doing the opposite of what is suggested, even if in their hearts they know it’s the best option.

However, it’s definitely not just a teenage thing. Even if it’s with less intensity and frequency, people tend to hold on to bits of that contrarian inclination in their adult lives.

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Let’s imagine a 5 year-old boy who refuses to eat his vegetables. You insist on making him finish everything on his plate, but it’s seemingly useless: he won’t eat his carrots or his zucchini. If you keep nagging him to eat them, it will always end badly. You’ll give up and he’ll run off happily to play.

It’s not as simple as telling the child not to eat them. He’s going to walk off and we’re going to end up being the ones to eat the veggies. So we need to prepare ourselves, and make the vegetables look more attractive: make it  look the complete opposite of bland and boring; make it fun. 

It’s at that point when we put reverse psychology in to play to make the dish look more attractive. Everyone has experienced their sense of curiosity increase when something is forbidden. This happens as much in childhood as in adulthood, because parents so often forbid their children from doing things they once found fun.


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Another reason for being contrarian can have to do with the confidence you feel in a determined situation. If you feel unsure and someone incites you to take a risk, you’ll probably opt for the more common or less divergent behavior.

On the contrary though, when we are feeling confident, we lean towards the riskier option with much more determination if someone tires to make us choose the safe route.

So, being contrarian in these cases usually doesn’t determine the side to which the balance tips, but it does cause it to tilt more significantly and stronger to one side than the other.

Maybe the example of the child refusing to eat his vegetables is something basic; however, be aware that r everse psychology is very often used in business.

For example: a company offers optional courses for their employees. But since their after work hours, no one signs up. So, the managers inform them that starting the following month, courses will be cut in half and the resources will be lost.

With this strategic move, the business doesn’t actually remove the courses, but instead the workers realize that they have valuable resources at their disposal, and that if they’re not used they will be devoted to another activity. No one likes losing something that has value, even if that person hadn’t realized it until it was given to them.

How to Apply Reverse Psychology in Three Steps

Now, it’s not about going around in life “denying things” so other people will do what we want. There are some “conditions” to keep manipulation from becoming a habit:

1- Who Will You Apply It To, and Why?

Answer this question before using the reverse psychology technique. If it’s to make your child get dressed to go to school or stop watching TV, go for it, but if it’s to convince your clients to buy a new product, maybe you should think twice.

2- What Effects Can It Have?

If you agree to let your child blow off their chores and they end up doing them, perfect. But, sometimes your plan won’t turn out like you had planned, and he’ll respond as happily as can be: “perfect, now I can finally go back to my video games.”

3- How Free Does That Person Want to Feel?

The greater their need for self-assertion (the need to feel that the decisions they make are their own will) the more likely they are to follow a different path than the one we suggest. For example, a person who doesn’t like taking orders would be a great candidate for reverse psychology.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.