I always have a hard time suppressing the inner urge whenever I see interesting artefact's in museums with a sign that reads "please don't touch". Can you relate to such experiences? Perhaps one obvious example is the fact that you are reading this article, even though the title requested the exact opposite. What were you thinking?
No doubt we inherited the characteristics of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Mark Twain once wrote, "Adam was but human. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake; he wanted it only because it was forbidden." The forbidden fruit may taste sweeter at the time of eating, but the consequence may be more than we can bear.
Reverse psychology is a technique that taps into this very nature of our being. It subtly advocates a belief or behaviour that is directly opposite to what is stated or described. It carefully packages the message to make it look like a forbidden fruit. When someone tells us not to do something, our mind has a sneaky way of urging us to do that very action. If we carefully observe the world around us, we can spot many paradoxical marketing campaigns featuring reverse psychology.
So is reverse psychology something to be avoided? Generally speaking, I would say yes. Wouldn't it be great if we all just say what we mean and mean what we say? But sadly it is not the reality of the world in which we live. People often use reverse psychology in order to prey on a person's ego or fear with the goal of profiting themselves. They set out to manipulate others, sometimes even unknowingly, with a clear purpose. The modus operandi of selfishness includes blindness to one's own heart.
The serpent's deception
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent used reverse psychology to entice Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. God prohibited Adam and Eve from eating the fruit and told them that they would die. But the crafty serpent said to Eve, "You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3 verses 4 and 5).
The serpent not only nullified what God commanded, but also added something really nice to it. Suddenly, this 'sugar-coated' fruit looked very pleasing to the eye, fitting for immediate consumption. This age-old technique is still at work all around us. So beware and watch out for those snakes! If something is too good to be true, it really is too good to be true.
When something is forbidden or discouraged, it's hard not to become intrigued. It's even harder to resist if it promises something beyond the present reality, no matter how temporary it may be. The studies found that people are more likely drawn to violent movies and games when they see the restricted classification labels such as 18+. The warning label actually does the opposite to its purpose (or is it in fact working as designed?).
Here is the lesson: People will sometimes take advantage of your honesty and use that information to entice and manipulate you. But it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people (1 Peter 2 verse 15).
The judgment of Solomon
Is reverse psychology intrinsically evil? King Solomon would probably say no. His famous story in the Bible demonstrates how it could be used to discern the truth and to administer justice. This story is recounted in 1 Kings 3 verses 16 to 28.
Two young women who lived in the same house and who both had a baby came to Solomon for a judgment. One baby had died, another baby was alive. The two mothers both claimed that the living one is their own baby and the dead one belonged to the other. Solomon called for a sword to be brought before him and ordered the baby to be cut in half.
The true mother immediately cried out, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!" This allowed Solomon to discern the true mother. His ruling was quite remarkable: "Do not kill the baby and give him to this woman."
This story is a fine example that reverse psychology can be used for good, rather than evil. But it always carries the danger of misleading people. So how do we know if we are using it for good? We could perhaps ask this question: "Can I eventually be honest about my true intention?" Reverse psychology that refuses transparency all the way through is only a tool for manipulation.
My hope is that you are more attuned to reverse psychology in our everyday living as a result of this reading. The final question to you then is: why did you read this article? Some of you probably wondered: "Why would this writer tell me not to read something he wrote? This doesn't make sense. Now, he is making me curious." You betcha!
Daniel Jang is a Graduate Diploma in Theology (GradDipTh) student at Laidlaw Bible College in New Zealand.
Daniel Jang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html