Psychological Reactance

“Why is it that a child sometimes does the opposite of what he is told? Why would a person sometimes dislike receiving a favor? Why is propaganda frequently ineffective in persuading people? And why would the grass in the adjacent pasture ever appear greener?”

We all know a contrarian. The one who is against whatever everyone else is for.

This is psychological reactance.

Psychological reactance manifests itself when someone feels the urge to resist what they’re being asked, influenced, or persuaded to do (or believe). It manifests itself when people do the thing that they are being asked not to do.

And it manifests itself when they refuse to do the thing they are asked to do.

This phenomenon is especially potent when it comes to things where people feel they may be losing some measure of freedom.

Related is the “Streisand effect.” That is, attempts to conceal information tend to increase people’s desire to know more about it, which can ultimately bring about its revelation.

We always want what we can’t have.

This is what makes propaganda so ineffective.

And everyone has a different degree of built-in psychological reactance. What works for one, might not work for the other.


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“Trash talk raises the psychological stakes of the game”

I don’t know how this podcast slipped under my radar for so long.

In this episode we are joined by Rafi Kohan, the author of “The Arena” which is a deep dive into wide ranging and interdisciplinary examination of the modern American sports stadium. Rafi is currently researching for his upcoming book on competitive banter a.k.a. talking trash, a human behavioral phenomenon that has existed throughout time, across cultures, and across the world.

Pineland Underground Ep. 4 Competitive Banter

I’ve listened to a couple of episodes now and they’re pretty good. This one was on “trash-talking” and the author spent some time speaking with folks at SERE school.

What’s the thesis? Why do we trash talk?

“Trash talk raises the psychological stakes of the game.”

That makes sense to me.

Also makes me understand the incredible emotion surrounding the Army/Navy game.


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The Truth Sandwich

you have to beLIEve me

Last week I wrote about the illusory truth effect – the psychological phenomenon wherein a lie that is repeated – even in refutation – is more likely to be remembered than the truth.

It turns out that there is a counter to this – the “truth sandwich.”

How to use it?

  1. Start with the truth. This is the frame.
  2. Introduce the lie – clearly stating that it is a lie.
  3. End with the truth.

It doesn’t always work. Especially if the recipient is no longer engaging in critical thought.

But for those who might be swayed, those who are still among the few willing to be wrong from time to time, it may nudge them towards the truth.

In the race to correct false information, the lie often gets too much air. You have to frame it in the right way.

And even then, most of the time the lie is not even worth refuting. Patience and trust will win the day.

Leaders – especially military leaders – need to suppress the urge to “do something” all the time.

“How are we countering this!?” screams the agitated military leader.

“We’re not, sir. It’s nonsense. And it will pass.”


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The Illusory Truth Effect

alice frustrated from alice in wonderland

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The illusory truth effect.

A lie oft-repeated serves as a cheap and comfortable alternative to the truth.

The illusory truth effect, also known as the illusion of truth, describes how, when we hear the same false information repeated again and again, we often come to believe it is true. Troublingly, this even happens when people should know better—that is, when people initially know that the misinformation is false.

Why do we believe misinformation more easily when it’s repeated many times? -The Decision Lab

Many of the posts here regarding “Army Myths” fall into this category. Most of the myths are beliefs held strongly mostly due to exposure over time.

There are two cures for this.

One is critical thinking. Stop and think about it for a moment before you commit your full being.

Two is to put the same thing at work for the truth. Unfortunately, the truth is often not as fun as the lie.


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The Redundancy Effect

a powerpoint presentation

If you are part of an organization that does lots of briefing, then you have likely had a boss who can’t stand it when the briefer reads verbatim the text that’s on a slide.

“Thanks, I can read.”

This is a common pet peeve. Anyone can read text from a slide. People start to wonder, is the text simply there as a crutch for the briefer?

If you’ve been around long enough, you may have come across a briefer or a boss who takes this one step beyond and states that actually, reading the text from the slide helps solidify the information – because it is being read and heard at the same time.

Strong opinions abound on the topic.

If you actually care, there is research into this. Out of it comes something called “the redundancy effect.”

Basically, it has been determined that reading the text on a slide verbatim does not assist in information retention as it tends to overload the short-term memory of the recipient.

Better, is a mixed approach, where the briefer augments text with narrative.

Better still is to reduce the use of text on the slides altogether and instead use images, charts, or data to augment the narrative of the briefer.

What’s your opinion? I know you have one.


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