Monday, 11 July 2011

Warning: Do Not Read This Blog Post

I’m a total sucker for reverse psychology, even unintentional. I was going into a garage the other day and there were cones all round the door and a huge sign saying “DANGER! Do NOT touch the door”. It took all my self control not to touch the door on my way past. Signs like that are just asking for trouble. I can often be found loitering with intent next to a wet paint sign, thinking “I wonder how wet it actually is?”

That “Do not click the red button” thing on the internet still always gets me, even though I have found myself clicking away at it knowing that nothing actually happens in the end, many, many times. Someone out there really knew how to waste people’s time. And why does Facebook seem so appealing when you’re at work and not meant to be looking at it?

I can go about my days perfectly happily not eating chocolate or stuffing cake into my face at every available opportunity, until I’m on a diet and instantly start craving Kit Kat Chunkys and ice-cream (and I normally don’t even like KitKats).

Why do I have to fight the urge to poke a knife in the toaster just to see if I really will electrocute myself? It’s not like I’m regularly standing over the toaster, knife in hand wrestling with myself, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a tiny part of me wondering what would happen if I touched those red stripy things with my butter knife.

We get so much information bombarded at us every second of every day no wonder we are susceptible to the most basic of human manipulation strategies.

Could the News of the World final edition also be reverse psychology at work? They say it’s the last, all proceeds to charity, now all of a sudden I am mourning its loss and rushing out to buy the final edition. And I don’t think I’ve ever actually bought it before. After all, companies use mind games like that on us all the time.

Teachers unintentionally used reverse psychology on us at school. We used to take our skirts up so people could “see what we’d had for breakfast” (that has to be the grossest but funniest line a teacher ever used on me), and every time we were told to let them down we would take them up even more. They really could have used reverse psychology to better effect there. If a teacher had said to us “You know what? Don’t wear a skirt at all tomorrow, we’d really like to see your pants” we all would have shown up in maxi skirts the very next day.

Children are very susceptible to reverse psychology. I use it often. You might call it manipulation; I call it getting out of the house on time. In fact, I use it so often and so casually I don’t even realise I’m doing it.
“My finger hurts!”
“Oh dear, maybe we should take you to the hospital, they’ll probably chop it off but you don’t really need that finger anyway do you? More peas?”
“Oh, it’s better now. Yes please, and can I have a biscuit for pudding?” I’m slightly concerned that I am doing nothing to prevent a hospital phobia in my children, but at least they don’t whine so much when they hurt themselves.

Is there something inside us that makes us want to do the opposite of what we’re told? Is it defiance, curiosity or just childishness? I will admit to all three.

So I asked the lady at the garage what would happen if I touched the door, I don’t know why but I was expecting a more exciting answer than a minibus had reversed into it leaving the whole framework of the door very unstable. Electrocution maybe, or at the very least some kind of buzzer going off and a voice coming out of nowhere saying “door has been touched, alert the guards”.

The funniest thing was that she said people had been touching it all day just to see what would happen. I wonder had they used a sign saying “Hey, touch this door now!” if everyone would have still touched it, I expect they would have. But if they had not put a sign up at all, just left the door propped open, I doubt anyone would’ve gone anywhere near it. What a bizarre bunch of folk we are.

And yes, I did touch the door on my way out, and much to my disgust, nothing happened.

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