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Whether it is via the use of a Berserk Button or a Restraining Bolt, you know you can get a very precise reaction from a character if you do the right thing. Sometimes there's Genre Savvyness or some Animal Stereotype involved, but typically, it's according to the Rule of Funny or the Law of Disproportionate Response.

See also Damn You, Muscle Memory! for a real life version, and You Just Told Me for a related phenomenon. See Never Say That Again for a vocal version.

Examples of Reflexive Response include:


  • The "Two Bits" example from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in Shave and a Haircut. Similarly, the Toons' uncontrollable laughter is a Response that Valiant exploits to kill the Judge's mooks.
  • In The Tuxedo, the titular tux always send someone who taps on its shoulders flying.
    • And smoothly pulls out a lighter if someone puts an unlit cig in their mouth.
  • Real Life: The ever-popular "Check her out!" "Who, where?" Especially funny when the person being baited is married and/or in a serious relationship, and his wife/girlfriend is right there, forcing him to backpedal. "Whoever she is, she can't be as pretty as you are!" or "Who cares, I have the most beautiful woman in the world right here!"
    • "Stupidguysayswhat!" "What?"
      • Some people who grow up with that joke being constantly used gain the habit of saying "Pardon?" just to screw with people.
  • Felicity from the webcomic The Dreamland Chronicles has to steal anything sparkly, no matter what sort of life and death situation the protagonists might be in at the time and how ill-advised stealing the glowing magical pendent hovering in mid-air might be. It's surprising that she's not an anthromorphic ferret or magpie, but rather a cat.
  • A stock phrase whenever a Pungeon Master is around: "Don't. Say it."
  • A surprising real life example: Once, when police were entering a house to look for a burglar, one of them said "Marco" in order to inject some humor into the situation. Guess how they found the burglar?
    • According to Himaruya, the author of Axis Powers Hetalia, a German army decided to bait out an Italian soldier by calling out a relatively common Italian name. The soldier with that name came out and said, "I'm here!" and the Germans got him. Later when the Italians decided to do it back to them, they had an Italian soldier yell out a common German name. The German soldier with that name came out and said, "Who called me?" "Me!" replied the Italian soldier. The German shot him right there.
  • In Abbott and Costello's Hold That Ghost, one of the heroines is being followed down the stairs by a man with a sheet over his head, who's miming her footsteps to hide his own. She gets suspicious, and taps out "shave and a haircut" with her feet and his cover is blown when he finishes with the "two bits."
  • One episode of the Gotham Girls web series has Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy playing Keep-Away with some loot, keeping it from Batgirl. Batgirl gets it by yelling out "Over here!" to Harley who, caught up in the game, tosses it over before she realizes what she's doing.
    • Variations are often used in real life, to the point where anyone reasonably involved in sports is nearly immune by the age of ten. Still works occasionally if your voice is familiar to the target (you're friends or former teammates) and/or you know his name.
  • In Legally Blonde, the lawyer played by Luke Wilson confirms Elle's suspicion of a witness's homosexuality (thereby discrediting his testimony) by asking rapid fire, innocuous questions (How long have you been working for the defendant? What was your job? etc.) before ending with, "And your boyfriend's name is?" The witness answers reflexively, outing himself.
  • There's a long list of things you shouldn't do if you want to survive a meeting with Golgo 13. Among them: don't touch his right hand, don't reach into your coat, and don't open a handbag. (He will attack at all of these.) His habit of standing when he meets a client comes from an early occasion where he killed a client's aide - the poor man made the mistake of walking up behind him while he was seated.
  • Naru from Love Hina has a He Is Not My Boyfriend! reflex, whenever someone mentions Keitaro. She even does it after they're engaged.
  • In one episode of Bonkers a toon criminal forces Bonkers to activate a deathtrap by placing a "Do Not Press This Button" sign on the activation button. As a toon, Bonkers is incapable of resisting a temptation like that.
  • Agent 99 of Get Smart instinctively judo throws anyone who sneaks up behind her. She also does it when she attempts to explain this.
  • An old comedy sketch, made popular by The Three Stooges, had one man explaining to a stranger how his wife ran off with another man. Since he caught up with them at Niagara Falls, he goes berserk every time he hears those words...
    • A similar sketch, performed by Abbott and Costello among others, involves a guy being roped into selling hats for the Sesquehanna Hat Company. He goes up to various customers, trying to sell a hat, only to have them react in shock, horror and outrage at the mention of their name for various reasons ("my wife was wearing a Susquehanna hat when she died!", etc.). This happens several times, and when his last customer approaches him and asks him if he's selling Sesquehanna hats, it doesn't end well.
  • Since the very beginning, World of Warcraft featured damage zones, glowing circles of poison, fire, darkness, whatever. The message ingrained into every competent player's head was that if a glowing circle appeared under you, move out of it immediately or die. In the Cataclysm expansion they gave several healing classes an area of effect, over time heal that took the form of... a glowing circle on the ground. Unsurprisingly, everyone is having to fight the urge to move out them. It's probably worst for druids; while shamans have blue and priests have yellow, neither of which is a common boss damage circle color, druids' circles are green, and thus resemble a cloud of poison.
  • In a Shadowrun sourcebook, iconic character, Hatchetman, was telling of his slow evolution from street punk to cyber samurai. At one point, he comments on how he used to snicker at older streetsams who would normally stand with their backs to the wall for being paranoid, only to get the 'wired reflexes' mods himself, and finding himself doing the same thing to keep himself from reflexively striking somebody coming up behind him. He wasn't paranoid of being hurt, but of hurting an innocent.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, where Lisa is doing something bad:

 Marge: Bart, Nooooo!

Bart: (standing right beside her) What?!

Marge: Sorry, force of habit. Lisa, nooooo!

    • American Dad had a similar joke in an earlier episode, where Steve gets impregnated by Roger. When Stan finds out, his immediate response is to yell at Hayley for "tarting around town". She angrily points out that she didn't do anything, and Stan says that he always assumed this would happen to Hayley, so it's what he's prepared for.
  • In the book The Wooden Horse, telling Mostly True Story of a WWII POW escape, the two British escapees are talking with Polish partisans trying get aboard a ship leaving German territory. The partisans ask them a number of questions to ferret out if they are German spies when suddenly reaches out slaps one of the escapees. His exclamation of "What the bloody!" in English was the final confirmation for them.
  • In season 6 of How I Met Your Mother, when Lily announces that she is pregnant, Barney immediately screams "I've never slept with that woman before in my life!"
  • In one of the Stephanie Plum Books (the thirteenth I think), one of her skips won't leave his house because he's waiting for the cable repair people, who he refers to as "those fuckers". For the rest of the book, almost any time anyone refers to the cable company, the person they are talking to (even if they are not aware of the original conversation) will immediately say "Those fuckers". The cable company is evidently not well-liked in New Jersey.


  • In one "Weekend Update" sketch from Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Fallon believes that Tina Fey is about to tell the viewers that he has a small penis, and suckerpunches her in the face. She asks if his paranoia is proof that it's true, and he hits her again. She then blurts out "small penis" and gets hit yet again. When she glares at him, he giggles nervously and explains that "It's an instinct."
  • On QI, this is one way the producers trip up the contestants in the General Ignorance round (where giving the obvious answer is usually the incorrect one and will cost points).

Animal Stereotype

Restraining Bolt

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