Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Psychology of the Irony of Book Banning

When a book gets banned, the people who are behind the ban are satisfied. Their children, their friend’s children, their children’s friends--none of them will be exposed to this book at their school library. Usually a book banning generates a good deal of publicity. Newspaper articles, school newspaper articles, online articles, online blog posts, online blog rants, sometimes a local radio or television show video or interview. Pretty much everyone who stays in the know about the news is aware of what happens.

Including the children.

If you tell a child they can’t have a cookie before dinner, that child wants a cookie even more. Sometimes the child may even find a way to sneak a cookie while your back is turned. This even goes for anytime a child shouldn’t have a cookie. For crying out loud, I remember sneaking into the kitchen at midnight to get a cookie out of our cookie jar at least once.

My point being…

Even "big kids" do this, as the picture clearly shows.
You tell a kid a book is bad for them and that kid is going to RUN to the nearest bookstore or library that has it and snatch it up and read it behind your back.

I thought this was quite amusing, since it is very true. I wanted to understand why we get reactions like this. So I Googled it. Apparently it’s called psychological reactance. According to Wikipedia: “Reactance is an emotional reaction in direct contradiction to rules or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms.” In other words, people don’t like when other people tell them what they should do or that they can’t have something. Try to control people, and they are bound to rebel eventually.

It's just like on How I Met Your Mother when Barney wanted Robin back:

Ted: You only want her because you can't have her. It's like if I said "You can sit anywhere in this room except... that chair." Are you so petty that...
Barney: My chair! My chair!

If somebody doesn’t want someone to read a book, they should just tell all the kids it’s a REALLY BORING book. Then they might have a little bit more success in getting them to not read it. Although, in what universe will kids ever listen to that either?

I just thought it was interesting that banning books will sometimes have more of a reverse effect. It almost makes the idea of book banning laughable.


  1. Ha, I'm exactly like this, even as an adult. If I'm at a museum or something and the sign says 'Do Not Touch', I am suddenly consumed by the desire to touch it. I have to either tap it lightly and quickly, or walk away.

    Book banning always gets a ton of publicity and often makes me aware of a book that I hadn't heard about before, or just makes me more interested in reading it now that I know it's controversial.

    Something I remember when I was a kid, is parents complaining about sexual content in a Sweet Valley High book. Totally tame by today's standards - I think Bruce Patman touched Jessica's breast or something. After that, my librarian kept the book behind the counter and would only give it to older students. We got our oldest-looking/tallest friend to borrow the book for us!

  2. That picture is utterly hilarious!! I think it's human nature to question things and to be curious so when someone tells us not to do something, usually our immediate reaction is to do the opposite. The dynamics may be different if a parent were to sit down and explain to the child why something is off limits but on the whole children are far more curious than adults and if you say no it will immediately make something seem all the more desirable. This brings to mind a certain episode of the Simpsons where Bart gets an electric shock every time he touched a cupcake and yet he still kept trying to do it. It just feels so Big Brothery to me to go around banning stuff.

  3. This is so true - forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest!

  4. TG: I know the feeling. :P And same with the Sweet Valley High books, it's so silly, especially how tame they were compared to now.

    Lan: I took that picture at a gas station bathroom in a small town south of where I live. And I LOVE The Simpsons. :) Great reference!

    Colleen: Yes it does!

  5. Too true! I have this problem too but I just thought it was an authority complex. Plus I'm the youngest kid in my family so I HATE when people try to tell me what to do. If you want me to do something you're better off telling me NOT to do it. So maybe we should just start badgering kids to read a "questionable" book and I guarantee you they probably wont!

  6. It's strange, because when we're young we don't listen to bans etc at all. but when we get older, we actually listen. there was a experiment that Stanley Miligram did, very interesting stuff.

  7. Jenny: Reverse psychology! I love it! :)

    Rocco B.: That is true!


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