Los Angeles, CA — Burbank-based clinical psychologist Dr. William Salter claims that reactance formation, popularly known as reverse psychology, is the driving force behind many human motivations, particularly in children and under-developed adults. His claim is rooted in the observations that when society tries to create a new law or ordinance, it is met immediately with a confrontation with this regressive cohort who refuse to understand why the new rules are being set in place.
“The classic example is the child and the cookie jar, ” said Dr. Salter via a WebEx conference call. “When you tell a child to stay away from the cookie jar, they will run over at least these two options in their mind. Taking a cookie or listening to the authority.”
Salter says that one could make an assumption of what the child may do based on external factors such as upbringing, age, experience, and their family’s social caste. This, however, is “intellectually lazy” as there are “many more factors involved in this metaphorical “cookie caper,” including “consequences, uncertainty, risk over reward, and media conditioning, just to name a few.”
According to Salter, it all comes down to a psychological cliche.
“The biggest determining factor in whether or not a child steals a cookie lies in how the authority structures the rules. If I, the father, tell the child, ‘your mom just made these cookies, and you can have as many as you want but only after we have dinner,’ you set a boundary and a guideline that is clear enough for the child to understand from beginning to end. Wait and then reward. Steal and get nothing even if that one cookie is worth getting a Time Out or other sort of punishment.”
“However, if I tell the child, ‘Don’t eat these cookies. Your mom just made these.’ I leave every other option open to the child for them to fantasize about the cookies. When will they get one? How many? Will they even be worth the wait? They didn’t say how long I have to wait, will I ever get one? It’s these questions that lead the child to steal the cookie over waiting for one. When you don’t provide all of the information surrounding an expectation, an air of mystery and fear is left behind. This fear is what drives people to act irrationally.”
When asked how this relative to public health and the current pandemic, Dr. Salter grinned.
“Now take all of these ideas and wrap them around the Coronavirus Pandemic. Instead of cookies, we are talking about wearing personal protection in public and staying at home. Instead of being tempted by delicious cookies, it is now by the good weather to hit the trails and beaches and to give our friends and loved ones’ hugs without the worry of spreading a virus.”
Ultimately, under-developed individuals are throwing big tantrums.
“Even down to the belief in the virus’s existence, there is a streak of rebellion as to whether or not it’s happening. It is, let me go down on the record, it is very real. The media and our trusted sources of authority are not releasing all of the information necessary for society to make informed decisions.”
Dr. Salter says this leads to a “network of mistrust,” and anti-establishment ethic that can potentially cause societal upsets such as crimes, riots, violent protests, domestic bioterrorism (i.e., spitting on someone), and internet mischief furthering the divide between those who wish to stop the pandemic. And those who are making a profit from it.
Everyone else is just a child waiting for a cookie.