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Up is down, right is wrong: The psychology of reverse psychology

Up is down, right is wrong. People trust a liar and condemn the honest. Why do people do this? Why is every sign wrong? In West Virginia there are signs all along the interstate (like most other states) explaining that littering is illegal. There is even a warning that the guilty party will be fined up to $2500 if caught. Yet, if you look close enough you will see that most of the litter on the road is around the signs.

Why do we feel that doing the right thing is the wrong thing? Would states be cleaner if they provided dumpsters along the roads with “no dumping” signs on them? Would stopping the seat belt laws and simply using graphic scare tactics to promote seatbelt use work better?

Most people want to feel like they are making their own decisions with a “don’t tell me what to do” mentality. Take smoking, for example. People have not been told they cannot smoke. They’ve been told WHERE they can’t smoke but no one has banned the sale of cigarettes. Yet, the eye opening campaigns against smoking have made many people decide to stop. Again, their decision!

Should the world be a place where millions of amateur psychologists use reverse psychology to inspire others to act as they should? Should the world be a place where people have to be “scared straight”? Gerald W. Greenfield, PhD believes that people don’t like to have their freedom restricted so they rebel. He feels that being told “no” makes someone want it more, rebel by reasserting their freedom, and/or become angry with the messenger. Therefore, reverse psychology can be beneficial if the one using this form of persuasion to help someone else, such as seatbelt usage or smoking or a parent trying to help an adult child have a better life knows the person they’re trying to convince.

This type of reverse psychology works best on those that are contrary or resistant. Passive people generally go along with the flow. Remember, though, some people are so stubborn or narcissistic that any form of help is considered manipulative and can produce negative, even detrimental results. As a rule, know the person! Even the most good-hearted person can seem like a monster if help is not welcomed.

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