Don't read this article.
Don't you get it!? You gotta use reverse psychology! Homer:
Well, that sounds too complicated. Homer's Brain:
use reverse psychology. Homer:
) All right, I will!
Fine, don't take our advice.
Alice is told to do/not to do something by Bob and then she does the opposite simply because it is the opposite of what she was told to do/not do. This is what she was expected to do in the first place. Bob used Reverse Psychology to trick her.
Any character who is told not to go in the basement, stay away from the woods, get out now, etc. will do the opposite, thus playing right into the hands of the very person who told them what to do/not do. This trope heavily relies on using the pride, perversity, or curiosity of someone else to manipulate them.
It's useful as the central tool in a Batman Gambit
since you need to make your pawns feel like they are making their own decisions.
Sometimes this can overlap with Do Not Do This Cool Thing
, by making the forbidden attractive just because it is forbidden.
It's a subtrope
of Batman Gambit
. Compare Thought Aversion Failure
(telling someone not to think about something will lead to them thinking about that very thing - involuntarily).
Compare Too Dumb to Live
and Genre Blindness
. It's worth comparing to Could Say It But
. Do not, under any circumstances, take this trope to an extreme, as it may approach Mind Screw
and I Know You Know I Know
Reverse Psychology Backfire
You could see these examples, but I'm telling you it's a waste of time:
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Tenchi Muyo! begins this way. Tenchi has repeatedly been warned by his grandfather that he must never, ever, under any circumstances enter the cave behind their ancestral shrine where a demon was supposedly imprisoned. It's later revealed that this was a case of his grandfather being a Genre Savvy Trickster Mentor, since he knew full well what Tenchi would do and what the likely result would be. He pretty openly goads Tenchi to opening the shrine, as he tells him that he can have the key as soon as he's able to take it from him through combat or trickery, and eventually Tenchi succeeds.
- Utawarerumono: "Eruruw is not in that direction. You can't go there." (points straight across a field filled with manure) This is why Aruruw is awesome. (She really isn't in that direction, of course, but the guy asking just called her uncute and is rather rude)
- In Naruto, Rock Lee decides he's successfully used reverse psychology... on the screen assigning matchups for the preliminary fights for the chunin exams.
- In an episode of The Adventures of Mini-Goddess, Skuld has a Big Red Button with a "Do Not Touch" label. Urd and Gan-chan fight over it until she changes the sign to say "Please Touch", at which point they stop. And then Belldandy presses it herself.
- In an episode of Pokémon, Ash thinks that Elite 4 trainer Prima is doing this when she seems to ignore his battle challenge. He also thinks it's called "perverse psychology.
- In the Legion of Super-Heroes "Legends of the Dead Earth" annual, Wildfire is trying to recreate both the Legion and the UP spirit of inter-species cooperation. He doesn't expect his current group of trainees to do it, instead pinning his hopes on their descendants, who will be raised with Legion values. To ensure there are descendants, he tells them they're forbidden to "fraternise".
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Parodied by the Scooby-Doo film, where Sarah Michelle Gellar confuses the heck out of some guy with a chicken who tells her not to go to a haunted house by wondering aloud whether he's using reverse psychology, reverse reverse psychology, reverse reverse reverse psychology, or something else entirely. Upshot: she's going to look for clues there.
- Don't, a fictional movie trailer included in the film Grindhouse, spoofs the horror movie version of the trope; a narrator repeatedly issues warnings to not go into the haunted house, not look in the basement, etc., while the characters on screen do just that.
- The song "Stay Awake" from Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins truly owns this trope. She gets herself hired by interviewing her employer and tricks Mr. Banks into taking the kids to work with him by acting like it's his idea.
- In the Thor movie, Loki pulls this fairly subtly to get Thor to attack Jotunheim.
- Both the film and book version of A Series of Unfortunate Events tell the audience to go see/read something more pleasant than what they're currently attending.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dr. Donovan warns Dr. Jones (Junior) not to trust anyone. Indy promptly puts his trust in Dr. Schneider and gets burned for it. Doubly applied, since Dr. Donovan convinced Indy to trust him enough in the first place to meet with Dr. Schneider.
- For a Few Dollars More has a nice little complex one. Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name character is a bounty hunter working from the inside of Big Bad Indio's gang. His partner on the outside, Colonel Mortimer, tells him to advise the gang to flee north since there's a good place for an ambush, and the two can catch the gang in a cross-fire. However, Eastwood wants all the money for himself and advises the gang to go south, pointing out that north would be a good place for an ambush. But Indio doesn't know Eastwood very well and suspects it may be a trap. So he splits the difference and heads east. When they get there, Eastwood finds Mortimer waiting for him, explaining that he knew Eastwood would do the exact opposite of what he said and also knew that Indio is suspicious of betrayal. Since they couldn't go west, as that's where they pulled off their heist, east was the only place they could run.
- In the documentary Gideons Army, a public defender is convinced of his client's innocence, but does not have the funds to order a fingerprint analysis that he believes will exonerate his client. In court, he motions to prohibit any fingerprint evidence from being used during the trial. The suspicious prosecutor fights him and immediately orders up a fingerprint analysis on the prosecution's dime. The fingerprints come in and do not match the defendant's, providing a strong case for the defense.
- In The NeverEnding Story, Mr. Coreander asks Bastion some poignant questions about his love of books, then warns him that the one he's reading is "not for you", because it is unlike the "safe," normal books that Bastian is familiar with. (Unlike in the original novel, the film's Coreander seems to have done this for the express purpose of getting Bastian interested enough in the book to swipe it while Coreander's back is turned.)
- In Life Is Beautiful, Joshua thinks he can just leave the concentration camp because Guido tricked him into thinking it was all a big game. Guido decides to march up to the door of their barracks while loudly saying that they've almost won, but if Joshua wants to chicken out then no one's stopping him. Cue Joshua diving right back into his hiding spot.
- In Witches Abroad, another witch needs Granny Weatherwax's help with a problem, but suspects that Granny will refuse a direct appeal; so she asks Magrat to do it, and strictly forbids Granny to interfere, relying on Granny to stick an interfering nose in where she thinks it isn't wanted.
- In Carpe Jugulum, the vampire Count Magpyr's forbidding castle is named ... wait for it ... Don'tGoNearThe Castle. It works great, too — they were always crawling with guests, according to Igor. On the way to confront the Magpyrs the witches find the route is regularly marked by signs of this nature ("Last Chance Not To Go Near The Castle!").
- In Men at Arms Vetinari wants Vimes to investigate the theft from the Assassins' Guild because he knows that the Assassins won't be able to do it, but he also knows that if he just tells Vimes to do it, he'll upset the Assassins. So he tells Vimes not to do it, which does work for a while. Unfortunately he runs into a Reverse Psychology Backfire when he goes as far as telling Vimes to Turn in Your Badge, and Vimes almost doesn't get back into the case in time.
- Harry Potter:
- In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Umbridge posts an educational decree outlawing The Quibbler. As Hermione points out, it ensures that everyone will want to read it.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore tries to recruit a recalcitrant Slughorn. Just after the latter's interest is finally raised, the headmaster wryly says "I think I know a lost cause when I see it." It works.
- Used on the protagonist in the second Alex Rider book, Point Blanc. After escaping the titular boarding school using an improvised snowboard (while being shot at by men on snowmobiles), Alex has no desire whatsoever to take part in the imminent raid, but no-one else knows the building's layout. Cue one of the men he trained with in the first book coming to tell him that he's Just a Kid and can't take part. Alex figures it out a few seconds too late.
- Used by Satan in the Incarnations of Immortality series. He's grown fond of Jehovah (not to be confused with God), and wants to stop the Holocaust that is killing his followers. So he invites Chronos and gloats about how the Nazis are all his plan. Chronos went back in time and prevents Hitler's rise to power, thus saving Jehovah.
- In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, one character argues with Menelaus not to try his mad experiment as if he really wants him to do it.
- House of Leaves begins with a page containing nothing but the statement, "This is not for you."
Live Action TV
- Battlestar Galactica. Colonel Tigh pulls a brilliant one on Starbuck, whom he has an ongoing feud with. The Ace Pilot is laid up with a knee injury. She has recovered enough to move, but stays in bed anyway.
Tigh: The Chief wanted me to kick your ass out of bed so you could help figure out that Raider of yours but, clearly, you still need the rest. So take your time, no rush.
Starbuck: Do you actually think that reverse psychology crap is gonna work on me?
Tigh: I really don't care what you think, Lieutenant. All I know is that every day you spend in that bed is another day that I have my opinion of you confirmed. As you were.
- Doctor Who, in the episode "New Earth". Cassandra claims that the cat nurse nuns have been keeping a secret, and tells Rose to come in close so she can whisper it in her ear. Rose laughs at such an obvious trap and backs away — into Cassandra's real trap.
- There is a The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode where Will's little cousin Nicky wants to run away from home, so Will sides with him, giving him all sorts of advice on how to survive in the streets. After this goes on for a while, Nicky announces he's not leaving anymore, "but not because of that reverse psychology stuff you were doing." "Oh? Why then?" "I'm 5 years old, you moron!"
- In the "Modern Warfare" episode of Community, when the study group need a distraction while pinned down by paintball snipers:
Jeff: Hey, Pierce! Don't come over here, okay?
Pierce: Screw you! I'm coming over there! [Does so; gets shot].
- In How I Met Your Mother, Barney tries and fails at this by claiming to love his new nickname "Swarley." His friends catch on right away, and correctly guess that he can't even bring himself to say the name.
- In M*A*S*H after a visiting British officer loudly berates his wounded men for being slackers and malingerers. Hawkeye and company are appalled, but later realize that the men are recovering well and showing excellent morale. The officer patiently explains that his actions were deliberate, since no one would berate a dying man, his harsh demeanor convinces his men that they can't be hurt that badly.
- In Engrenages, Joséphine Karlsson demonstrates her skills in this, when she manages to have a younger, less confident fellow lawyer beg her to take her (potentially sensational) case, after enthusiastically telling her how awesome it is to work on an affair with horrible odds that can potentially ruin your career.
Religion and Mythology
- In The Bible, God finds out that the Israelites have started worshiping the Golden Calf and tells Moses "Now leave Me alone, and My anger will be kindled against them so that I will annihilate them" (Ex. 32:10). Rabbinic commentary notes that Moses hadn't had a chance to object yet, so God has no reason to say "leave Me alone"—except to inform Moses that He wouldn't destroy them if he did object.
- In The Golden Apple, when the old men of Angel's Roost are chanting vengeance and Penelope, clinging to Ulysses, pleads with him and reminds him of his promise not to go away, Mother Hare tells him not to go but "stay home and die in bed." This is all the incentive Ulysses needs to agree with the old men and head off to Rhododendron.
- Used to a great extend by GLaDOS in Portal, and also decorated with a huge lampshade.
"I don't want to tell you your business, but if it were me, I'd leave that thing alone.
"Do you think I'm trying to trick you with... reverse psychology? I mean, seriously now."
- Portal 2 contains a segment in which the Big Bad offers you a chance to voluntarily kill yourself rather than face certain doom in his lair. He even goes so far as to point out that you dying now would be his "just desserts", as he would be properly furious that he'd gone to all the trouble to set up his deadly lair only to have you die anticlimactically twenty feet from the door. In fact, he does want you dead by any means possible, but by this point he's so frustrated with your ability to survive his Death Traps that he'll try anything. For bonus laughs, he is very pleasantly surprised if you actually take him up on the offer.
- The premise of Depict 1
- In Ever17, You says that her mother believes that her father died years ago and searching for clues in LeMU would be a waste of time. Yuubiseiharukana's mother really believed it and really felt it was a waste of time. Yuubiseiakikana's mother is Yuubiseiharukana, and she both knows for a fact that her father is dead and that telling her daughter not to bother investigating is the perfect way to get her to go to LeMU. Who would know better than her how to motivate herself?
- In one of the Codex entries in Dragon Age II, a bear tricks a traveller into feeding himself to a dragon by sparing his life as long as he agrees not to go further into the cave, but not telling him why. The traveller is unable to resist his curiosity. Overlaps with Schmuck Bait.
- In Kingdom of Magic, the hero has to talk a water elemental ito turning a water wheel. One of the dialog choices: (Paraphrased, it's an old game)
Hero: I'll convince you with reverse psychology!
Elemental: Go ahead! Do your worst!
Hero: (to him/herself) Damn! If he wants me to use reverse psychology, he must be immune. So I can't use that!
- In Star Control II, you can try to use reverse psychology with the VUX or the Slylandro probes (it both cases, it does not work). In the latter case, is even lampshaded:
You: Hmmm.. maybe reverse psychology would work. Er... Die alien scum!
- Helen in Narbonic is really good at this:
Artie: You want me to teleport to the moon? How expendable do you think I am?
Helen: I'm sorry, Artie. Sometimes I forget how small and helpless you are.
Artie: Wha - Now, see, this is why I've been filing all those complaints to the ACLU! You constantly assume I can't perform equally simply because of my species! Well I'm sick of it! I can rescue Dave and Mell at least as well as a primate!
Helen: (thinks) I need a new hobby.
- Used in Looking for Group, when Richard is explicitly told he does not have enough power to open up a portal, since the other characters know he does, but feel that just asking him to do it would probably yield negative results. Since this is Richard we're talking about, they're probably right...
- In Sinfest, Satan disdains Seymour's renouncing him, causing Seymour to trail after him, accusing him of reverse psycholoyg and how it won't work.
- Demonstrated in Girl Genius, when Agatha stumbles upon a fearsome monster in an enemy's abandoned lab.
Agatha: "I am not your creator! You were not created to serve me - and I do not expect you to obey my commands or crush my enemies!"
: "GRA- ...
" (snorts and waddles off)
- In Darths & Droids, during the beginning of the Episode IV storyline, R2-D2 tries to plan his escape from the Sandcrawler, only to discover that the Jawas have put a restraining bolt on him, and it controls his actions, rendering him unable and unwilling to remove it. When he is under custodity of the Lars family, he uses this trope to get Adam to remove it, effectively exploiting the restraining bolt's countermeasures.
- Statistical Fact features this comic about a mock list of least effective crime prevention techniques there this trope is #27.
- Phase calls it "Politics 102", but she still uses it to make sure none of her teammates are going to go beat up (or something a lot worse) Solange and the Alphas.
- Mr Welch is no longer allowed to use a low Charisma stat to get people to do the opposite of what he suggests.
- The Whitest Kids U Know want you to know that you should not say that you want to kill the president. It's definitely illegal to say that.
- About the page quote: the old cartoon Koko's Earth Control had an End of the World lever. Ren and Stimpy had the History Eraser Button. Nope, the paint never had time to dry.
- Used with surprising skill by The Monarch in The Venture Bros.. Having invaded the Venture compound, the villain comes across a deactivated robot with Dr. Venture's face, and proceeds to do something — nasty with it. He's discovered by Dean, who exclaims that he's going to run tell is father. At first the Monarch is embarrased, but suddenly changes to full supervillain shouting mode. "Yes! Do it! Fulfill my plan! Tell him and your conversion to evil shall be complete!" Dean bravely defies the villain, saying he will never tell what he saw (without wondering, of course, how doing so will make him the least bit evil.)
ii. The standard sitcom plot, where one party (usually the parents) attempts to dissuade or encourage another party (usually the kids) by, naturally, doing the opposite. Often begins with one parent reading a child psychology book and going "Hmmm..."
Usually involves second party figuring it out, and either doing exactly what they're told
, or pretending to "fall" for it and being totally obnoxious in the other direction
- Frindle follows a group of children who coin the titular word as a synonym for "pen" and try to promote it despite general mocking. Towards the end, the teacher who banned the use of the word turned out to be using this to promote the word, out of sympathy for the youthful rebels.
- Played somewhat more seriously, but closer to ii than i, in Ender’s Game. The bans on playing computer games for longer than a few hours are never enforced—they're just a way of making the games seem like Forbidden Fruit. Each game is used to evaluate the thought processes of its players.
- This is the declared idea behind Grigori Oster's humorous book of Bad Advise - a series of short verses that encourage kids to do naughty (or sometimes downright horrible) things and misbehave as much as possible, with the "logic" being that children always do the opposite of what you tell them.
- Used several times in Frasier, most notably when Frasier persuades Niles to do his show by saying it requires skills Niles doesn't possess. Being a psychiatrist, Niles recognizes what Frasier's doing, but it works anyway.
- The Colbert Report: Stephen Colbert often does this in a tongue-and-cheek manner with suggestions, such as stating explicitly that he doesn't want his interviews remixed into Stupid Statement Dance Mixes, especially not with excerpts from the audiobook version of "I Am America (And So Can You!)" mixed in, and particularly not from Chapter 7.
"I am not
telling you to paste this page [with the word 'Truthiness
' included] into the dictionary at your local school and/or library. Are we clear on how I'm not
telling you to do that?"
- Open All Hours: Arkwright's trying to shift some Jamaica ginger cake off his shop's shelves, so as soon as a customer comes through the door he immediately says "I'm sorry, but I can only let you have one!" before implying it's an aphrodisiac, in one of the most bizarre cases of Sex for Product ever.
- Babylon 5: "John, don't go to Za'ha'dum."
- Used skillfully in various episodes of Hustle. In one episode Stacy, who got a job at the bank they're conning, is effortlessly able to manipulate her bosses simply by sounding a note of caution whenever she wants them to take a huge risk.
- When Top Gear found out that people in Amsterdam had been throwing small, light Smart Cars into rivers, Jeremy worried that people in England might think of doing the same thing to small, light G-Wizzes, and urged them not to... while making very intense eye contact with the camera and nodding a lot.
- Nick in My Family tries this to get some money for a drive-through Santa's Grotto.
- The Big Bang Theory - Sheldon's mother tricks Sheldon and Amy into getting back together by talking about how unsuitable for each other they are.
Leonard: I saw what you did there.
Mrs Cooper: He thinks he's such a smarty-pants. He's no different from any man - you tell 'em not to do something, that's all they wanna do. If I hadn't told my brother Stumpy not to clear out the wood-chipper by hand, we'd still be calling him Edward. Now don't you move, I'll bring over all the food.
Leonard: No, no, no, I can do it. (gets up)
Mrs Cooper: Well, isn't that sweet.
- This has failed at least once on Garfield, and he does use the line about "reverse reverse psychology."
- In The Boondocks, after Riley is exposed as having framed Huey with his hairstyle (by doing a driveby shooting as well as apparently ordering a dirty magazine), he manages to trick his grandfather into getting him Cornrows as his punishment (earlier, his grandfather didn't want to get him cornrows). He also tries to do Reverse Psychology in regards to receiving a whuppin' (beating him with a belt), but he was stopped mid-sentence.
- Basically the plot of The Fantasticks, where two neighboring families who adore each other try to fix up their son and daughter by staging a feud and building a wall between their houses. Lampshaded in the song "Never Say No."
- The Simpsons poked fun at this kind of Reverse Psychology several times:
- In "Saturdays of Thunder":
Homer (reading): Cosby's First Law of Inter-generational Perversity: No matter what you tell your child to do, he will always do the opposite. Huh?
Homer's Brain: Don't you get it!? You gotta use reverse psychology!
Homer: Well, that sounds too complicated.
Homer's Brain: Okay, don't use reverse psychology.
Homer (angry): All right, I will!
- Chief Wiggum tries his hand when trying to persuade Bart, Skinner and Krabbappel, who have barricaded themselves in the school, to surrender themselves ("Fine, stay in the school! We don't want you to come out!"). It doesn't work ("Okay!").
- In "Lisa's First Word": After an unsuccessful attempt to physically pull toddler Bart away from his crib, Homer tries the psychological route ("Ok, Marge, let's leave the little baby with his crib."); moments later, when he and Marge have walked away and Bart hasn't budged, he tries to pull Bart away from the crib again.
- When retired cowboy actor Buck McCoy, upon being wheedled to reprise his role, tells Bart and Lisa, "The last city-slickers to use reverse psychology on me are pushing up daisies!" ("They're dead?" "No, they just got really lousy jobs...")
- Homer tried to use reverse psychology on a toucan. It didn't work, for precisely the same reasons that it wouldn't work on the toucans in the real world.
- In Marge on the Lam:
Bart: You're absolutely right, Dad. We don't need a baby-sitter.
Homer: Wait a minute (Takes out card reading: "Always do opposite of what Bart Says.") You kids do need a baby-sitter!
Bart: (to himself) Blast that infernal card! (to Homer) Hey, Dad. Don't give me that card.
Homer: Here ya go—(Pulls card away)—No!
- Ed, Edd n Eddy, "A Twist of Ed": Edd gets the idea to use Reverse Psychology to drive away the Kanker sisters by acting as stalker-ish towards the girls as they do towards the boys. It works wonders until the Kankers notice Eddy, who's too nervous to pull it off, and then pretend to run away in fear to draw them closer. "It's a Reverse Reverse Psychology!!"
- In the same episode, Ed's reaction to reverse psychology is portrayed somewhat akin to a compulsion: to demonstrate, Edd tells him not to eat a pile of dirt. Ed sits there blank-faced for a few seconds, then nervously looks at the dirt before finally going over and eating it.
- King of the Hill:
- Riley in The Boondocks tricks Granddad to allow him out of the house so he can visit Gangstalicious in the hospital:
Riley: See I was like all into Granddad's mental mind. It was like psychology. But in reverse.
- Shows up in The Fairly Oddparents. It trumps youthful rebellion!
- In the South Park episode, "Butt Out", Cartman thinks Kyle is using reverse psychology to trick him into not appearing in an anti-smoking commercial, but Kyle really doesn't want to do it.
Cartman: Oh, I get it, Kyle. That's your Serbian Jew double bluff. Make me think you don't care about being in the commercial so that maybe I won't either. Ooops. didn't work, did it, Kyle?
Kyle: No, we really want nothing more to do with these people.
Cartman: Sure you don't, Kyle. Oh, and neither do I. Oh, I know what you're gonna say next. You're gonna say, "How about none of us show up tomorrow to do it?" And then I'm supposed to agree so that tomorrow you can waltz in all by yourself and do the commercial. That's Serbian Jew double bluff and it ain't gonna work on me ha ha ha.
- Invoked in "Chef Goes Nanners" by Ned and Jimbo. In a desperate attempt to keep the city's racist flag unchanged, they disguise themselves as members of Ku Klux Klan and suggest voting to change it. When asked why, Jimbo explains that if the Klan votes to do something, the city, not wanting to side with racists, would vote for the exact opposite, and since the racists are in the minority, they're sure to lose. Thus, the flag would remain unchanged. The Klan agrees on this.
- Johnny Bravo falls for this twice in an episode in which Suzie begs him to take her to the toy store. He catches on, saying that her Reverse Psychology will not work on him. She agrees, which angers Johnny so much that he forcibly takes her just to prove her wrong.
- Ayam Aghoul's debut episode in Aladdin: The Series has a moment like this with Aladdin and Genie after Aladdin unwittingly releases Aghoul, who declares Jasmine his bride.
Aladdin: I'm gonna lose her, Genie, and it's all my fault!
Genie: You're right, kid. All your fault.
Genie: You know, the situation: Mingle with zombies, pay the price. You have every right to feel like a creep... creep!
Aladdin: Now, wait a minute here! How was I supposed to know giving Jasmine a gift was going to unleash that guy?!
- One person pointed out how some widely hated stuff like Ctrl+Alt+Del, Twilight, Justin Bieber, and anything popular became so popular despite such a huge Hate Dom because it was unintentionally invoked by the Hate Dom itself. The quote "The more you hate it, the stronger it gets" refers to this action in practice where someone hears about a work from the Hate Dom or Hate Dumb, then decides to try it out, only to experience Critical Backlash or find it's just as bad as they say. The publisher still wins in the end because they either earned a new customer or still got someone to buy something when they didn't even fall into the target demographic.
- When the Hatedom is even louder than the fandom, it can actually be the cause of its popularity. For example, if it weren't for all the parodies mocking "Friday", no one would have ever heard of Rebecca Black.
- During World War II, many U.S. propaganda posters featured a Japanese person (or rather, a racist caricature thereof) encouraging you (in an Obviously Evil fashion) to do something contrary to the war effort.