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Inverse consequences

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Title: Inverse consequences  
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Subject: Cobra effect, Self-defeating prophecy, Perverse incentive, Counterintuitive, Logic
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Inverse consequences

The term "inverse consequences"[1] or the "Law of Inverse Consequences"[2] refers to results that are the opposite of the expected results as initially intended or planned.[2] One consequence is in the "reverse predicament" of the other.[1]


The term "inverse consequences" has been in use for over 175 years (since at least 1835).[1] The term was also used by Auguste Comte (1798–1857) in his book System of Positive Polity (published 1875), stating, "Inevitable increase in Complication, in proportion with the decrease of Generality, gives rise to two inverse consequences." [3]

Documented examples

The term "inverse consequences" has been applied in numerous situations, for example:

  • In treatment of drug addiction, medications intended to reduce one type of addiction might trigger another addiction: long-term treatment with opiate medications (such as morphine) has inverse consequences.[4]
  • In management of work tasks, a total sequential execution, of work tasks, has inverse consequences, such as a decrease of the workload with an increase of the lead time.[5]
  • In asset management, plans for portfolio management might have inverse consequences to the potential benefits.[6]

Related phrases

The concept of "inverse consequences" has a corollary in other phrases, as well:

  • "the plan backfired" - meaning the opposite result occurred, as in a gun firing backward, rather than forward.

See also


  1. ^ a b c The Philosophy of Manufactures: Or, An Exposition (on factory systems), Andrew Ure, 1835, page 434 of 480 pages, Google Books link: booksGoogle-AU: states "the influence of which upon them will be manifested by inverse consequences; the one being in the reverse predicament of the other."
  2. ^ a b "Chatham County Center: Green Thumb Prints Newsletter 2007 Index",, May 2007, webpage: NCSU-law.
  3. ^ System of Positive Polity: Social statics (on positivism), Auguste Comte, 1875, page 376, Google Books link (PDF 11.8mb): books-Google-AC: states "inevitable increase in Complication in proportion with the decrease of Generality, gives rise to two inverse consequences."
  4. ^ "Neuron : Experimental Genetic Approaches to Addiction", A. Laakso, 2002, webpage: states "exposure to psychostimulants such as cocaine leads to sensitized response; long-term treatment with opiates (such as morphine) also has inverse consequences".
  5. ^ "Managing and Organizing the Cooperation in Design Processes" M. David, PDF file: Inria-fr-COOP2004-PDF.
  6. ^ "The Infinite Asset: Managing Brands to Build New Value" (on business & economics), Sam Hill, Chris Lederer, 2001, 238 pages, Google Books link: books-Google-SH: states "...managers must understand and anticipate inverse consequences every bit as much as they preach the potential benefits of their action plans."


  • Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures: Or, An Exposition (on factory systems), 1835, page 434 of 480 pages, Google Books link: booksGoogle-AU.
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