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Paradoxical Effects of Thought Suppression

by Daniel M Wegner, David J Schneider, Samuel R Carter III, Teri L White
Journal of Personality and Psychology ()

Abstract

In a first experiment, subjectsv erbalizing the stream of consciousnessfo\nr a 5-min period werea sked to try not to think of a white bear,\nbut to ring a bell in case they did. As indicated both by mentions\nand by bell rings, they were unable to suppress the thought as instructed.\nOn being asked after this suppression task to think about the white\nbear for a 5-min period, these subjects sh~ significantly more tokens\nof thought about the bear than did subjects who were asked to think\nabout a white bear from the outset. These observations suggest that\nattempted thought suppression has paradoxical etfects as a self-control\nstrategy, perhaps even producing the very o~on or preoccupation that\nit is directed against. A second experiment replicated these findings\nand sh~ that subjects given a specific thought to use as a distractcr\nduring suppression were less likely to exhibit later preoccupation\nwith the thought to be suppressed.

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