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August 19, 2013

So Oprah Winfrey, one of the richest women on earth walks into a shop that sells crocodile hand bags. She spies a hand bag with a price sticker of $38,000 and the sales woman refuses to show it to her because she did not believe Oprah could afford it.

If you accused the woman of being a snob, you would be right, however I am not certain about the accusation of racism and I don’t care. Regardless of what your take may be, I find it more interesting that a woman of Oprah’s statue would even visit such a store in the first place. Here is a question, why would anyone (regardless of wealth) even consider buying a $38,000 hand bag? (The artificial value placed on crocodile skin doesn’t count)  Here is an answer, because the retailer is selling the idea of being better than most, or supremacy through the product.

This story is a classic case of reverse psychology in action. Reverse psychology works when the opposite of a desired behavior is encouraged. This leads most people to defy the behavior being encouraged, and actually engage in the actual behavior desired by the manipulator.

For instance, high end retailers get away with their ridiculous high prices by making it known that their products aren’t for everybody. This tactic works because it targets our social instincts to belong to a group, which leads to a fear of being rejected . My personal favorite of witnessing reverse psychology in action was learning that a high end car manufacturer, required prospective customers to complete an application form, and if approved, the customers would be placed on a waiting list from six months to two years.

If I walked into a store and I was informed that I could not afford a certain product, I would not be offended. Heck, I might thank the sales person  for the tip. If I stepped into a store where I came to perceive hostility from a sales person, I would confront the person and then take my business elsewhere.

So why are a significant number of people prone to falling for the trap of reverse psychology? Besides mentioning our innate desire as social creatures to be accepted, another flaw we have, is our desire for guarantees. While it is obvious that a temporary life is the only guarantee in this world, human beings loved to be lied to about guarantees. Sales people know this and often find themselves making more sales when they speak in absolutes, versus sales people who speak in terms of probability. Likewise, high end sales people sell the idea that customers who purchase their over priced products are guaranteed to be seen as being better than, or of high status by others who recognize their ownership or use of the over priced product.

If you are still reading this, you are probably curious as to how you can protect yourself from being suckered into a game of reverse psychology. The answer is a classic case of prevention being better than cure.  It all boils down to how you perceive yourself as a human being. People who accept themselves wholeheartedly and unconditionally, don’t fall for mind games. This is because they adopt and practice a pragmatic approach towards life.

They don’t seek acceptance and recognition through expensive products, instead they get their need for acceptance and recognition met by connecting with others who share and practice similar beliefs. This way they find themselves being better prepared to accept and move on from encounters with all forms of rejection from strangers.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC a private professional counseling practice.


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