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How Reverse Psychology Works

Who Does Reverse Psychology Work On?

Reverse psychology, or paradoxical intervention, is a relatively new concept in psychotherapy, says Raymond. Yet it can also be considered folklore. For example, all through history, parents have been told not to warn a child they don't want her to marry the ne'er-do-well she loves, for fear she'll promptly wed the loser. But does it work on everyone, and in every situation?

Experts tell us reverse psychology is more likely to work on those who like to be in control — Type A folks, rebels and narcissistic people, to name a few. (Agreeable, more passive people typically will do what you ask, so reverse psychology isn't necessary for them.) It also tends to work better on those who are making decisions based on emotions, rather than when calmly evaluating things [source: Straker].

But Raymond argues the success of its usage depends less upon personality type than on the dynamics of the relationship. "Where a person is struggling with autonomy and individuality, paradox may work because [that person] feels as if they are still resisting by doing what you tell them not to do."

As an example, she cites Julian Assange, head of the WikiLeaks site. "The more he was told to stop, and had a ton of threats put on him by powerful countries such as the U.S.A., the more he defied and became a martyr to the cause," she says. "If he had been told that it was great, keep doing it (paradox) by the USA, he probably wouldn't have been so intent on it."

Thankfully, most of us aren't pondering whether to employ reverse psychology to stop the release of sensitive governmental information. No, most of us use it for rather benign reasons, and typically on kids and love interests, or in business settings, as you'll see.