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Paradoxical effects of thought suppression

by D M Wegner, D J Schneider, 3rd Carter S. R., T L White
J {P}ers {S}oc {P}sychol ()

Abstract

In a first experiment, subjects verbalizing the stream of consciousness\nfor a 5-min period were asked to try not to think of a white bear,\nbut to ring a bell in case they did. {A}s indicated both by mentions\nand by bell rings, they were unable to suppress the thought as instructed.\n{O}n being asked after this suppression task to think about the white\nbear for a 5-min period, these subjects showed significantly more\ntokens of thought about the bear than did subjects who were asked\nto think about a white bear from the outset. {T}hese observations\nsuggest that attempted thought suppression has paradoxical effects\nas a self-control strategy, perhaps even producing the very obsession\nor preoccupation that it is directed against. {A} second experiment\nreplicated these findings and showed that subjects given a specific\nthought to use as a distracter during suppression were less likely\nto exhibit later preoccupation with the thought to be suppressed.

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