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Reverse Psychology?

Yes, apparently you can actually get people to do something (or maybe NOT do something) by encouraging them to do the opposite.

There is a growing body of research that shows people can be discouraged from doing things they find pleasurable by paying them to do those things.

Theorists believe it demonstrates one of the major differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

When people do things because those actions give them pleasure or fulfillment, their motivations are intrinsic. Performing the actions becomes intertwined with their sense of identity: they do those things because of who they are.

When people do things because an outside force is compelling them to take those actions – by paying them, or forcing them or shaming them into it – their motivations are extrinsic.  There is not the same kind of connection with the sense of identity.

With extrinsic motivation, there is often an undercurrent of resentment – psychological reactance – and a lost sense of freedom that can sap the pleasure out of an action that may have once been performed for fun.  Extrinsic motivation tends to dampen and can even extinguish intrinsic motivation.

Putting this strategy into practice may be difficult, however. The chances of convincing any organization that must answer to public opinion to actually use this human tendency in an intentional way is pretty slim.

For instance, I don’t think we can convince the government that a good way to combat obesity would be to pay fat people to eat more.

But what about gun control?

Given the climate in the Republican-held House of Representatives, we are far more likely to pass a bill offering people financial incentives to own as many guns as possible than to pass a bill restricting gun rights in any way.

If we could get the government (i.e., the hated government, from which no good can ever come) to pay people to own guns, maybe this would work better to discourage gun ownership than trying to legislatively take away people’s right to bear arms.

By the way, on the subject of gun control, people on both sides of the debate could gain additional perspective on the matter by reading the classic science fiction novella, “The Weapon Shops of Isher,” by A.E. van Vogt.


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