Ever wonder why your spouse eats too much even when you warn him or her not to eat too much? It could be because your admonitions put your spouse into a state of reactance, causing them to go against your advice just to prove their independence.
Reactance is a state of mind that arises when people feel that their freedom is being restricted. Reactance can be triggered by random events–when a food is not in stock at a grocery store, some people will be upset that they’ve lost the ability to purchase that food, even if they didn’t care that much about the item previously. Public service announcements, or PSAs, can trigger reactance, too–lecturing people on what they should or shouldn’t do can create backlash, where people do the bad thing just to prove they can’t be controlled.
When I first learned about psychology reactance, I thought about my older brother. It was a cold Minnesota day (sorry for the redundancy), and my then nine-year-old brother was staring longingly at a ribbon of ice that had wrapped itself around a metal railing. My parents, reading his mind, warned him not to lick it. He promptly took a lick and his tongue stuck to the frozen metal like it planned to remain there until April. My parents rescued him by pouring lukewarm water over the railing.
The lesson? Sometimes the worst way to keep people from engaging in harmful behaviors is to tell them to avoid those behaviors.
(To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)