Reverse psychology  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Reverse psychology is a technique involving the advocacy of a belief or behavior that is opposite to the one desired, with the expectation that this approach will encourage the subject of the persuasion to do what actually is desired: the opposite of what is suggested. This technique relies on the psychological phenomenon of reactance, in which a person has a negative emotional reaction to being persuaded, and thus chooses the option which is being advocated against.



In popular culture

Classic examples of reverse psychology in popular culture include a large, bright red button with a sign next to it saying "do not push", or a sign saying "jump at your own risk", such as in the computer game Neverhood, where a large drain is accompanied by signs that say "Do not jump in!" and "You will die!", although jumping in the pipe is the only way to achieve game over in the whole game without finishing it. The Looney Tunes are also well known for using such "bright red button" gags. A well-known example of reverse psychology is the Looney Tunes cartoon Rabbit Fire, where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are trying to convince Elmer Fudd it's the hunting season for the other species and not their own. After a back-and-forth with Bugs proclaiming "Duck season!" and Daffy "Wabbit [sic] season!", Bugs switches to say "Rabbit season!", to which Daffy begins saying "Duck season!"- even going so far as to exclaim "I say it's duck season, and I say, FIRE!" Daffy is promptly shot and is quite annoyed after noticing he was tricked. Occasionally, humor is derived from reverse psychology backfiring, as in a FoxTrot strip when Jason, faced with punishment, begs his mom to take away his computer rather than make him eat a whole box of Ho-Hos, and she agrees. A similar example appears in Narbonic.

  • In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief novel by Rick Riordan, Percy tells Procrustes (Crusty) to sit on a water bed to see if it could hold the giant's weight. Then Percy straps the giant to the bed chopping off his feet and killing him for a while. In Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse, Percy tells the old man of the sea (Nereus), "not the sea" to trick him into thinking Percy would die in the water. So he jumps off the dock and Percy strengthens, since his father is god of the sea.
  • On the ride (Splash Mountain), you can see the robotic versions of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, with Brer Rabbit hovering over a boiling cauldron. As he is about to fry, Brer Rabbit shouts "Alright, you can boil me! But please don't throw me in dat der Briar Patch!", at which point the riders fall down a 50-foot drop.
  • In some episodes of Bugs Bunny, Bugs uses reverse psychology on Daffy by pointing Elmer's gun at himself, saying that it is rabbit season, then Daffy says that it is duck season (instead of rabbit season) and that Elmer should fire.
  • In the episode "A Twist of Ed" of the television show Ed, Edd, and Eddy, in an attempt to demonstrate reverse psychology, Edd commands Ed not to eat a pile of dirt; therefore, eating a pile of dirt is the first thing Ed does. The three Eds use reverse psychology on their mortal enemies, the Kanker sisters, which backfires when the girls use reverse-reverse psychology on the Eds, similar to double-bluffing.
  • A real-life example of reverse psychology occurred when promoting Bohemian Rhapsody. The song is 5 minutes and 55 seconds long, and many record companies felt that it would be too long to gain public interest. Freddie Mercury gave a copy to Kenny Everett, a London DJ and good friend, with specific direction not to play the song, believing that Everett would be more likely to play it as a result.
  • In an episode of Trick or Treat, a show featuring Derren Brown, a student was challenged not to kill a kitten, by pushing a button. Throughout the show, she was shown to be extremely conflicted, and by the end, she almost pushed the button just as the timer ran down to zero. During this episode, other situations are also explored, such as young children being told not to open a box given to them by the host, all of the subjects ended up opening them.
  • Another real life example of reverse psychology occurred when pop artist Lady Gaga promoted her upcoming album ARTPOP and its lead single "Applause" by releasing a short film urging fans not to buy her music and stating that she was "no longer relevant as an artist".

In plays and fiction

There are numerous examples of reverse psychology in fiction, cinema, and cartoons, including William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where Marc Antony uses reverse psychology to get the town's people to cause a riot.

In one of Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus stories, Br'er Rabbit escapes from Br'er Fox by repeatedly pleading "Please, Br'er Fox, don't fling me in that briar patch." The fox does so, allowing the rabbit to escape: 'the Rabbit uses "reverse psychology" to outsmart the Fox'.

In "Mary Poppins" the titular character sings "Stay Awake" to the Banks children in a successful bid to use reveerse psychology to get them to go to bed.

Reverse psychology occurs several times on The Simpsons. In the third season episode "Saturdays of Thunder", Homer has a conversation with his brain after reading a passage in Bill Cosby's parental-advice book Fatherhood:

Homer's Brain: Don't you get it? You've gotta use reverse psychology.
Homer: That sounds too complicated.
Homer's Brain: OK, don't use reverse psychology.
Homer: All right, I will!

'In The Ghost Writer (1979), the Master - E. E. Lonoff - is "countersuggestible"; one manipulates him via reverse psychology in much the same manner as, say, Poe's cerebral detectives match their wits against master criminals'. Similarly in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado", Montresor uses reverse psychology to persuade Fortunato to enter his vaults. He says that Fortunato is too tired and should get some rest, and that he should find someone else to help him with his problem. Montresor knew that Fortunato would disagree and insist on entering the vault.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Reverse psychology" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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