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Reverse psychology is the term that describes the outcome where advocacy of one course of action persuades someone to do the opposite. It is basically making virtue out of necessity

Classic examples of reverse psychology in popular culture include a large, bright red button with a sign next to it saying "do not push," or a sign saying "jump at your own risk", such as in the computer game Neverhood, where a large drain is accompanied by signs that say "Do not jump in!" and "You will die!". Naturally, nevertheless jumping in the pipe is the only way to achieve game over in the whole game without finishing it.

Adorno and HorkheimerEdit

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer characterized the effect of the culture industry as "psychoanalysis in reverse". Their analysis began with the dialectic that operated in Germany when heirs of the Romantic movement became seekers of "Strength through Joy" only to have their movement co-opted by a combination of the mass media and National Socialism. A modern example begins with the "fitness and jogging" boom in the United States in the 1970s. The "running craze" at the Boston Marathon and in California, dialectically, was the thesis that one did not have to be "rocky" in a sweaty gym to be physically fit and that body acceptance was the key to effective aerobic training. The culture industry responded to the thesis with major advertising campaigns from Calvin Klein and others that used images exploiting excessively toned models. People compared themselves to these models which created a sense of competition, and many high school students now avoid jogging because of body shame.

The culture industry mass produces standardized material. This would not be dangerous if the material was value-free, but it frequently offers and reinforces ideals and norms that represent implied criticism of those who fail to match up. Empirical studies show that mass culture products can lower self-confidence and self-esteem, and cause humiliation among men and women whose particular characteristics are outside the normalised range for appearance, behaviour, religion, ethnicity, etc. Similarly, advertising frequently seeks to create a need to buy by showing a difference between actual situation and ideal situation. The intention is to induce dissatisfaction with the present situation and to induce expectations of satisfaction through the acquisition of products that will effect the transformation into the idealized reality. Hence, if the peer group buys, all those who cannot afford the products will feel additional unhappiness and frustration until they join the group. Thus, sometimes the process of advocacy for the one intends to produce the opposite outcome as the motivation for purchase.

But, more often than not, the cause and effect is unintended. Marxist logic applied to the culture industry indicates that it is, per se, a dialectic in which declining profit margins and increasing costs make investors anxious for "sure things". Repeating winning formulas and stereotyping create the lowest common denominator products with the lowest costs. But the less the creative input, the more likely it becomes that roles will be cast in ways that match rather than challenge common prejudices which can inadvertently damage the esteem of those in the marginalized groups.

See alsoEdit


  • Adorno, Theodor W. Negative Dialectics Continuum International Publishing Group; Reprint (1983) ISBN 0-8264-0132-5
  • Horkheimer, Max, Adorno, Theodor W. & Cumming, John (Translator) Dialectic of Enlightenment

External linksEdit

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