Reverse Psychology and the Reactance Phenomenon

Anthony Golden
Reverse Psychology and the Reactance Phenomenon

Secrets that will help you establish more persuasive strategies in your social interaction

Commonly known as Reverse Psychology, it is one of the forms of persuasion that people use the most, whether they are aware of it or not. Behavioral Sciences call it: phenomenon of psychological reactance, it is that motivational impulse, which is accompanied by emotions and physiological reactions, arise to regain freedom. It manifests when the person perceives their freedom or privileges threatened (either in a real or perceived way), which leads them to resist the influence of others, helping to build our own freedom.

Sometimes reactance makes people make decisions that go against their health and interests; when we ignore the medical indications, it is a clear example. However, it generally influences a person to do the things we tell them NOT to do..


  • Reverse psychology in parenting
  • Negative effects of reactance
  • Reactance in the workplace
    • Links
    • References

Reverse psychology in parenting

As parents, we can use this phenomenon to our advantage and for the good of our children. It is very common among adolescents and young children, especially those of 2 years of age, they see themselves as individuals, as they develop the concept of autonomy, arising the desire to fight against limitations.

A classic case of reactance, they are Romeo and Juliet, because the more the family opposed the relationship, the more they sought it with ardent desire. Our children may try to hide or withhold important information from us in the future. When threatening parental interference decreases, so does the inclination toward the person.

This does not mean that we have to accept the choices of the children that could put them at risk, remember that this led the lovers to tragedy! We can choose more effective persuasion strategies according to their stage of biopsychosocial development and their personality. Examining our attitudes, avoiding punishments and prohibitions, as they are forms of parental control that increase reactance.

It may interest you: The importance of setting rules and limits for children

Negative effects of reactance

It is important to be careful in the way we construct and transmit a message when we want to influence people to do something, because even if the person does what we want, reactance often generates: aggressiveness, hostility, anger, resentment and cognitions negative towards authority figures, which affects the bond, thus being counterproductive.

As we have already said, an important component of reactance is anger, although it is usually associated with a negative emotion, it is also related to the motivation to move forward, and it is something that can help us move towards something we want. Contrary to the avoidance motivation, which makes us give up.

Reactance leads us to question certain arguments and do forbidden things. A model of this is represented when citizens demonstrate in some way before a political reform that is inconvenient for them. However, something very curious happens with information censorship, since it has been observed that the audience most wants to receive it, they tend to believe that this type of information is real, even before they see, verify or even receive it! Thus, advertising, politics and the media, among others, use censorship and the reactance that they generate in their favor to influence audience decisions..

Reactance in the workplace

The work area is also a favorable scenario to generate reactance, so it is necessary, within communication, to take into account that: a poorly constructed message can affect operating systems, productivity and good dynamics between work teams.

Advertising uses the concept of scarcity a lot, to persuade us to buy more, thus applying dynamic reactance, since they create needs for us. In response to reactance, the following occur: first, an emotional and motivational excitement; reflective and cognitively oriented responses come later, so we realize until after buying a certain product on sale that we really didn't need it.

Freedom is an inherent desire of the human being, as far as the unbearable lightness of being or the conditioning allows it, of course. Therefore, here are 6 strategies to improve your persuasion strategies:

Let us remember that we always have our ability to choose, we can choose the attitude we assume in the face of circumstances, even though our freedom is deprived, reactance contributes to human survival, because it contributes to finding meaning in life, even when we are in middle of suffering.




  1. Brehm J.W. A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic Press. 1966
  2. Robert B Cialdini. Influence. Science and Practice. Pearson Education 2009 (pages 203-213)
  3. Human Communication Research, 36, 397-422. doi: 10.1111 / j.1468-2958. 01381.x Shen, L., and Coles, V. B. (2015)

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