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Reverse psychology is in play when someone attempts to have another person perform the desired action or adopt the desired belief by stating the opposite, tapping in to the contrariness of human nature. In this way, reverse psychology is related to the psychological reactance, where a person is persuaded to make a desired choice because they experience a negative reaction to its alternative. Reverse psychology is used in many interpersonal relationships, including parent-child, romantic, platonic, and psychotherapy. It is also common in popular culture, often seen in marketing and advertising. What would you do if we told you to stop reading this article right now? If you're driven to keep reading, that is an example of reverse psychology at work.

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1. Theory of Reverse Psychology

An individual has what psychologists call "freedom of behavior"; assuming they are mentally and physically able, they can carry out behaviors based on their willingness to do so. If an outside force threatens this behavior, the individual will often react to protect that choice. Motivation science defines this as psychological reactance. Reverse psychology is based on this theory and depends on an individual making the opposite choice of what is presented to them because they perceive the presented choice to impede on their freedom.

Three men discussing themselves Thomas Barwick / Getty Images
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