I am curious on if the prohibition or persuasion of something increases the odds of someone wanting to do the opposite of that.

Here is the definition of reverse psychology:

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.

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    Since nobody closed this question despite not having ANY proof that anyone notable doubts that reverse psychology works, it clearly does :)
    – user5341
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 18:02
  • Might need to be more specific as it is possible that reverse psychology only works in some domains rather than in general.
    – matt_black
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 18:26
  • The notability of this question's claim has been challenged (but not flagged for moderator attention.) My interpretation was that the claim is that "the technique of reverse psychology, as described by the definition, is effective". This claim is reasonably clearly implied by the Wikipedia article, which is a notable source. The OP is skeptical that it really does work. Based on this interpretation I wrote an answer and did not see a reason to close the question. The answer shows that the issue was addressed scientifically - it was falsifiable and doubted - it really is a scientific claim.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 13:13

1 Answer 1


In psychology, there is a concept of Paradoxical Intervention. It is mentioned on the same the Wikipedia page you cited, but is perhaps more clearly defined by writer, William Hay:

In a paradoxical intervention the therapist tells a person to do something with the intention of achieving the exact opposite result. The most extreme example is the therapist telling a suicidal patient to kill themselves with the result that the patient becomes non suicidal.

This is clearly one form of "reverse psychology".

Does it work? This was examined in a meta-analysis of twelve studies in 1987:

Shoham-Salomon, Varda;Rosenthal, Robert Paradoxical interventions: A meta-analysis., Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 55(1), Feb 1987, 22-28. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.55.1.22

The effectiveness of paradoxical interventions in psychotherapy was evaluated in a meta-analysis of 12 data sets. Overall, paradoxical interventions were as effective as (but not more effective than) the typical treatment mode. However, paradoxical interventions showed relatively greater effectiveness than other interventions (a) 1 month after treatment termination and (b) with more severe cases.

So, yes, reverse psychology can work in a clinical setting.

(I am ignoring the more typical setting of dealing with recalcitrant children, because I think that has been shown to be somewhat effective in the short-term by virtually every parent.)

  • Go on - sit in that muddy puddle then :-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 9:12
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    I donno - my kid was commenting to me on how I was trying to use reverse psychology on him and that it won't work - explicitly - by age 4. As in - quoting - "you are just telling me to do this thing so I will do the opposite because I am in the not obeying you mood. Right?"
    – user5341
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 18:04
  • @DVK: Cute. Hence my qualifier "in the short-term". I'm guessing you got away with it for a while before your kid cottoned on.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 23:36
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    Too short of a time... too short :( +1 btw
    – user5341
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 15:56
  • go ahead! Down-vote this answer! (+1) Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 17:26

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