Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Every day, we are faced with many choices. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the work we do, the people we love… Whether you are at work, school or home, choice is an unavoidable part of life. In fact, we put a great deal of importance in choice, stating that it is a fundamental right of a free individual to make their own choice.

So what happens when this right is taken away from us? A common reaction to this is anger and revolt. People whose freedom are taken away by a dictator will throw a revolution to choose who they want as a leader. Children throw tantrums to show that they do not want their parents to decide things in their stead. There are cases of death row inmates attempting to take their own lives because “ending my life is the one choice I have the right to”.

We like to think we are free individuals, making our own decisions in life. We mock others for being sheeple – choosing to not choose by following the mainstream decision or preference. But choice is often an illusion.
Consider how many of “your decisions” are truly from your own heart. Are you drinking Coke over Pepsi because you really appreciate the taste difference, or because of effective marketing? Are you listening to that song because you enjoy the melody, or because it is at the top of the charts and everyone is listening to it? Are you eating that menu because you were attracted to what the ingredients are, or because the waiter recommended it as “the special of the day”? You would be surprised how little choice you have sometimes, no matter how free you think you may be.

But choice has an ugly, darker side. Making a choice is often difficult, mentally taxing us as we make an internal pros and cons list to try sort things in order and determine “the best choice”. There are countless research showing that the more choice that is available to you, the harder it becomes for you to choose and the more distressed you become. It could be severe to the point that you get analysis paralysis, where you spend so long making a decision that you miss out or never take an action. Not only that, but making a choice puts the responsibility on you. For example, although medicine is moving towards a patient-oriented system where the patient makes an informed choice, the patient may feel burdened with guilt if their choice results in a poor outcome. This applies to every choice we make from day to day in the form of regret. Regret is the sinister monster that makes us think “What if?”. What if we chose differently? Regret leads to blame and blame leads to sorrow and anger at yourself.

This is the paradox of choice. It feels good to be able to express your uniqueness through choice, but at the same time, the freedom of choice can cause pain and distress just as easily. If your choice goes against the group decision, it can make you stand out and cause you to be shunned. This is why so many of us “choose to not choose” and give up our right of choice. Being social animals, we have a tendency of following groupthink while ironically shouting for the importance of free will. To fight this natural tendency and making a choice reflecting your own thoughts, beliefs and identity is a brave thing to do.

However, that is not to say that surrendering your choice is always a bad thing. A couple who met through arranged marriage may have a happier relationship than those who met through romance. People who’ve grown up in communist countries say that “it was easier when we didn’t have to choose everything”. Most importantly, reflect on your childhood where so many of your parents’ decisions – no matter how oppressive they seemed then – turned out to be the right call.

So in the end, the most important choice you can make is this: do you choose to surrender your choice or do you choose free will? Choose whatever makes you happy, because there is no point choosing something and regretting it because you are unhappy.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Reverse Psychology

If you tell a child not to do something, chances are he or she will do it. This is a simple rule of parenting that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives. People (especially children and teenagers) are wired in a certain way so that if they are told they cannot do or have something, they react by wanting it more. They then rebel by reasserting their freedom and express anger towards the person restricting their freedom. This is a natural response for a person that is beginning to develop a sense of self and ego, as they feel an instinctive desire to protect their right to free will. This psychological phenomenon is known as reactance.

Although reactance can be very troublesome and annoying to deal with, you can easily turn it around to your advantage if you understand the basic principles behind the effect. Under the assumption that a child will always react to your commands and advice by doing the opposite, we can deduce that if you say the opposite of what you want, they will end up doing what you want. This is reverse psychology. It is a surprisingly effective method of manipulation, especially in those with high reactance (usually children or those who are as immature and stubborn as children).

It has been scientifically proven that reverse psychology is extremely effective in children, as they would rather protect their (perceived) free will than avoiding study or not eating their greens. An example of reverse psychology would be telling a child to stay home when they actually want them to go out and play. However, reverse psychology is not the most ideal way of parenting as it reinforces the idea that it is okay to do the opposite of what you ask, thus undermining your authority.

Reverse psychology works just as well in adults when used right. For example, using a strong imperative tone against a person effectively assaults their ego, which provokes their natural instinct of reactance. If you are not in a position of authority and the person has the option to defy you, it is likely that they will revert to an irrational teenager and do the opposite of what you commanded. However, repetitive use of reverse psychology may lead the person to think that they are being manipulated, causing them to nullify it by reverse reverse psychology. Reverse psychology can be a double-edged sword if this happens, so it is important to know when it is most likely to be effective.

Psychological reactance is more likely to arise if the restricted option appears more attractive and important. The greater the restriction of freedom, the greater the psychological reactance. Also, arbitrary threats produce high reactance as they do not make sense, making people more rebellious. It is important that reverse psychology be used subtly and sparingly on people who are resistant to direct requests. Mastery of the above skills will help you manipulate a person into doing your bidding under the illusion that they are acting on their free will.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


We often see people who criticise others for being “sheeple” – people who blindly conform to the majority and follow someone like sheep do. They protest that as human beings, we have a right and duty to exercise free will, sticking up for one’s own opinions. However, according to an infamous experiment from the 1950’s, we know that human beings are bound by our natural instincts to be social creatures, obeying the collective will of the group we are in.

In 1953, Solomon Asch designed an experiment to study the power of conformity. He told participants that they will be taking part in a vision test with a group of people. They were shown a picture depicting lines of various lengths, asking which line on the right matched the line on the left:

It was a simple task of matching the line to another line of the same length with the answer being blatantly obvious. But as with so many psychological experiments, there was a trick. The group of “participants” were actually in on the experiment other than the one subject. During the experiment, the group would all put their hands up on the blatantly wrong answer instead of the actual correct one. How did this action affect the subject’s answer?

Although it seems clear that the answer is A in the given example, when in a situation where the majority of people put their hands up for “B” or “C”, up to 32% of the subjects gave the incorrect answer. No matter how large the differences were between the sizes of the lines, the results did not change. Although 32% is only a third of the study group, one must bear in mind that this experiment only looked at black-and-white scenarios of lines of different length. If the issue at hand was much more “grey” – such as an ethical dilemma – it can be extrapolated that the person would easily sway and conform to the majority opinion.

The reason for the level of conformity exhibited in the experiment is quite simple: it’s the one who is different that gets left out in the cold.