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Oh hey, seems like reverse psychology works to motivate you to check out this video! Now, let us explain how it works.

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[♪ INTRO].

Hey, you know all those chores that you probably have to do? Dishes, laundry, vacuuming?

Yeah, they're not important. You should probably just forget about them. I don't know if you actually feel any more motivated now... but reverse psychology is the idea that you can persuade someone to do something by telling them not to do it.

It might seem like something that only works in cartoons, like a big red button that says “DO NOT PUSH.” But researchers have studied reverse psychology and it does seem to have an effect on real people in certain situations. When scientists talk about reverse psychology, they focus on something called reactance. You know that “you can't tell me what to do!” feeling?

That's reactance. This idea was first proposed in 1966, in a paper on psychological reactance theory that synthesized a lot of thoughts and research about this internal process. The author suggested that when we're given instructions to do a particular thing, we feel our freedom of choice becoming restricted.

For example, on your own, you can choose to do whatever you want — watch a movie, go to the park, eat a corndog... But when you're told to do something specific, your freedom to choose other things feels like it's more limited. Psychologically, that can be uncomfortable.

And that discomfort can motivate you to fight back to regain that freedom of choice. So you might disobey. Like, “No Mom, I'm not going to clean my room.

I'm going to, probably sort my

Magic: The Gathering cards!” If we are talking about me back in a high school. Even if you didn't even want to sort your

Magic: The Gathering cards, more options lead to less discomfort. Of course, reverse psychology isn't just a thing for rebellious kids. The research is mixed on whether younger or older people might be more susceptible to stronger reactance, and it's tricky to compare ages because of other life factors. But psychologists do know that people of all ages experience reactance, and in lots of situations — from taking advice from a friend, to listening to a public health message.

For example, when the US drinking age was legally raised to 21 in the 1980s, psychologists noted behavioral changes between college students of different ages. One survey looked at 3,375 college students during the academic year between 1987 and 1988. And they found that 81% of the students who were younger than 21 drank, versus 75% of students who were 21 and over.

Underage students also reportedly drank more heavily. 24% were considered more likely to make risky decisions or to be heavy drinkers — basically, having a lot of drinks fairly often. Only 15% of legal drinkers were in this category. You wouldn't expect such a drastic difference without some cause.

And sure, there are a lot of factors that go into the decision to drink. But the researchers suggest that this trend was partially because students were reacting to limited freedom, to re-establish a sense that they could choose whether to drink or not. Another survey looked at 2,142 students from 10 schools in 1990.

And they saw significant differences in alcohol use if people were 21 or not, but not other drug use. The researchers say that further supports the idea of reactance, because the changing drinking age was a big deal to behavioral freedom. The kicker is, reactance can cause people to go against lots of best interests.

Even ignoring medical treatment plans from doctors. A 2014 study that looked at depressed patients found a strong link between high levels of reactance and refusal to take medications. 119 psychiatric outpatients being treated for depression were asked to fill out a number of questionnaires, assessing their psychological reactance, how in control they felt, self-efficacy, and how well they were adhering to the medications they'd been prescribed. And their responses showed a distinct negative correlation between reactance and medication adherence.

In other words, stronger reactance meant they followed their treatment plan less. The authors of the study concluded that it might be helpful for mental health professionals to find ways to communicate with patients that avoid creating high levels of reactance. One strategy could be giving patients more tools to make decisions, instead of explicitly telling them to do or think something.

For example, Motivational Enhancement Therapy emphasizes patients' freedom of choice. And these kinds of therapies are often used to treat cases of drug abuse or alcoholism. Rather than a therapist pushing a particular choice, like, “stop taking all those drugs, dude,” the therapist and patient work through the pros and cons of each approach to the issue.

This way, the patient hopefully feels less limited, and reactance is less likely. Ideally, they're more likely to carefully weigh all the strategies and choose to take steps towards recovery. We've all heard about this, you have to make people think it was their idea.

Reactance is just one of many factors that affects how likely someone is to take advice — it's not a surefire way to persuade anyone. But if you're feeling lucky with a stubborn nephew, who knows, maybe a little reverse psychology will do the trick. Thank you for watching this episode of Scishow Psych!

If you enjoyed this video, definitely don't leave a comment, and don't you dare, don't you dare subscribe! [♪ OUTRO ].