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Which types of people is reverse psychology most effective on?

The Oxford English dictionary defines reverse psychology as “The principle or practice of subtly encouraging a behavior or belief by advocating its opposite”. Reverse psychology is in essence a form of subconscious mind programming. The persons conscious mind is subtly bypassed with the suggestion planted directly into the persons subconscious.

It can be a very effective tool because as Michael Pantalon PHD (author of “Instant Influence”) says It works because none of us like to be told what to do, so much so, that we often do the opposite of what we're being pressured to do simply to re-establish our freedom or what psychologists call "autonomy”.”

The problem though is that while reverse psychology works very well on some people …for others it won’t work at all (but that doesn’t mean you still can’t get them to do what you want as we will see).

Let’s look more closely firstly at who reverse psychology does and doesn’t work for…

Types Of People Reverse Psychology Works On

When it comes to reverse psychology – control is everything.

Reactance theory states that people who feel their sense of control is being taken away, will try to take it back by doing the opposite of what you tell them to do. Their subconscious reasons that by doing the opposite of what you tell them to do, they are regaining control of the situation. Therefore, reverse psychology is most effective on people who have a strong need to feel in control. These include people such as:

  • Narcissists
  • Type A personalities
  • Stubborn people
  • People with large egos
  • People who like to resist the status quo

People who are worked up or emotional are also usually responsive to reverse psychology. Telling such people that they can’t or shouldn’t do something …is like a waving a red rag to a bull.

Types Of People Reverse Psychology Doesn’t Work On

Conversely, if someone doesn’t have a need to feel in control but has a more compliant and agreeable nature to them, their subconscious won’t be tempted into trying to gain control of the situation by doing the opposite of what you tell them to do. Reactance theory is of little use with such people.

In addition,

  • People who have a lack of confidence
  • People who have an inferiority complex
  • People with a poor self-image

…are more inclined to be followers rather than leaders. And so when you lead them with a suggestion, they will be more inclined to follow that suggestion rather than do the opposite of what you have just said.

Also, if you frame a situation negatively to someone who suffers from low self-confidence by saying something like “You’re grades are terrible. You are a stupid person”, you might damage their self-confidence further (rather than motivating them to get good grades) and set up a new limiting belief in their subconscious that they will never be a smart person …and therefore shouldn’t even try. A better example for the above would be “I bet you can’t get a B in your next maths test”. This frames the situation positively as a challenge to the person.

Therefore, all these types of people might be more responsive to being directly convinced into doing something rather than attempting to use reverse psychology on them (See my article “How To Convince People”) for more information on how to directly convince someone of something or of into doing something.

Who are more responsive to reverse psychology – men or women?

Jeff Greenberg, professor of social psychology at University of Arizona says there is “some limited evidence that men are a little more prone to reactance than women”. But the difference is very small. So while there is a slight difference between the sexs, for all practicability purposes - it more comes down to the specific persons personality …rather than their sex.

There is a bigger breakdown when it comes to age. Greenberg says: “Between ages 2 and 4, for example, kids can be more emotional and more rebellious, so reverse psychology may be more likely to work on them.” However, he goes on to say that by age 4 when children have become more socialized …simple reverse psychology techniques begins to become less and less effective.

The older a person gets (and more intelligent they are), the more skilled you need to be in implementing reverse psychology on them. Check out my article “How To Use Reverse Psychology On Someone” to find out how to properly use reverse psychology on an adult.


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