Reverse psychology isn’t just a great way to fool your 5-year-old niece. Apparently, it’s also a great way to get people to eat tons of really unhealthy food, according to research from Arizona State University. Not to say that was the study’s intended takeaway, but if you ever want to fatten up your friends, now you know how.
In a paper recently published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, a team of researchers conducted three experiments that showed pushing only negative messages when attempting to get people to eat healthy can actually backfire. In the most damning of the studies, the researchers found that dieters who were presented with the negative message “All sugary snacks are bad” ate 39 percent more chocolate chip cookies than people who saw a positive message. Apparently, the cookies couldn’t have been that bad.
In another revealing experiment, participants were given a mix of three messages: negative, positive and two-sided. Dieters who saw the negative message chose 30 percent more unhealthy snacks than those who were given a positive message. But dieters who saw a two-sided message went with 47 percent fewer unhealthy snacks that the group who got the negative message.
“Our work shows that negative messages about unhealthy food will backfire among dieters,” said Naomi Mandel, one of the paper’s authors. “If you want to change what they eat, a more even-handed message that contains both positive and negative information is the way to go.”
So next time you see a loved one grabbing for that extra cupcake, remember: two-sided. Maybe say something like, “Being healthy will make you feel better about yourself, whereas eating that cupcake will most likely lead to a miserable death.” I think that should do it.