Reverse Psychology

Reverse psychology is a psychological trick wherein a person states the opposite of what he/she wants in the hopes that the person of whom he/she is making the request will defy his/her stated wishes, thus giving him/her what he/she wants.

How Does Reverse Psychology Work?
Reverse psychology capitalizes on a person’s desire for independence, and subtly conveys that a person can be independent by defying another person’s wishes. For this reason, it is commonly used with children who wish to express their independence by rebelling against their parents. A mother might, for example, tell her four-year-old, “I think you should stay up forever!” The child, confused by his/her mother’s exclamation and wishing to assert his/her own decision-making abilities might then choose to go to bed. Parents might also use a more subtle version of reverse psychology with teenage children by exclaiming they love something they actually hate. The teen, who thinks his/her parents are hopelessly unhip, might then choose a different outfit, movie, or song in an attempt to defy his/her parents, thereby inadvertently actually obeying his/her parents’ wishes.

Other Uses of Reverse Psychology
Although it contains the term psychology, reverse psychology is not a common therapeutic tool because therapists do not try to force their wishes on people.

Reverse psychology is sometimes used as a marketing tool. Marketers may make consumers desire something more by convincing them that purchasing it is counter-culture or that the marketer does not actually want the consumer to purchase the item.

A classic use of reverse psychology is the “Don’t push this button!” ploy, which has repeatedly been used in comedy sketches, television, and movies. A 2012 viral Youtube video used precisely this approach to advertise the television network TNT in Belgium. A bright red button is positioned in the middle of a town with a large sign encouraging passersby not to touch it. When someone does push the button, a series of progressively more dramatic events ensues, culminating in an advertisement for TNT.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Don’t tap red button. (2012, May 03). YouTube. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-21-2015

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