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Thought Suppression
May 22, 2009 8:21 PM   Subscribe

Why Thought Suppression is Counter-Productive: How pushing a thought out of consciousness can bring it back with a vengeance. [Via]
posted by homunculus (39 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I refuse to even consider this.

Let us never speak of it again.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:25 PM on May 22, 2009 [7 favorites]


... and I thought that the hip new Gladwell-esque counter-intuitive theory was that repression was supposed to be good for you, particularly for PTSD folks. I swear it was in NPR.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:28 PM on May 22, 2009


Also, the game.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:43 PM on May 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


Freud called.

and I thought that the hip new Gladwell-esque counter-intuitive theory was that repression was supposed to be good for you, particularly for PTSD folks. I swear it was in NPR.

How is that counter-intuitive? Unless "intuitive" means "obsolete psychological theories that have filtered into pop culture over the last century" Which it probably does.
posted by delmoi at 8:45 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well these guys are saying that if people actively try not to think about something they'll think about it. But that just means they're doing it wrong. The trick is try to distract yourself with something else whenever it does come up.

For example "the game" I managed to "win" the game entirely with the sole exception of when assholes started popping up in Metafilter threads to completely randomly inform everyone that "they just lost the game" even though it had nothing to do with "the game" itself.
posted by delmoi at 8:53 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seriously, acceptance is the only way.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:00 PM on May 22, 2009


Also, the game.

Dammit, I lost it again.
posted by zinfandel at 9:01 PM on May 22, 2009


[points with look of awestruck astonishment and excitement]

Look over there!

[runs]
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:01 PM on May 22, 2009


Nerve-Stapling never works unless you commit to all out war.

Just sayin'
posted by The Whelk at 9:11 PM on May 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


False Dichotomy.
posted by phrontist at 9:17 PM on May 22, 2009


Just more filler for the false mythos that humans have no control over their mental functions.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:21 PM on May 22, 2009


Just wanted to let you guys know... I know you and your friends have doubts, but you're not really gay.

Let us say no more about this.
posted by markkraft at 9:33 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to let you guys know... I know you and your friends have doubts, but you're not really gay.

Are you talking to me?
posted by humannaire at 9:36 PM on May 22, 2009


Don't think of a pink elephant.
posted by Decimask at 9:54 PM on May 22, 2009


Tenser, said the Tensor, tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun. Tenser, said the Tensor, tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun. Tenser, said the Tensor, tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun. Tenser, said the Tensor, tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun. Tenser, said the Tensor, tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun. Tenser, said the Tensor, tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun. Tenser, said the Tensor, tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun.
posted by Artw at 9:59 PM on May 22, 2009 [8 favorites]


So, when will I no longer have to check my alarm clock 5 times before bed?

(After the sixth time, I guess.)
posted by spaltavian at 10:12 PM on May 22, 2009


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissension
posted by JoJoPotato at 10:15 PM on May 22, 2009


I guess it could chase you around. It's
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 10:46 PM on May 22, 2009


In my own purely anecdotal, unverifiable experience, thoughts behave like flowing water. Trying to suppress a thought-stream only works briefly; eventually it ends up overflowing any erected mental dams, flooding your attention, which stays drenched with it for way too long. Whereas simply letting a thought-stream run its natural course means that it quickly flows back into the deeper depths of the subconscious from whence it came (or at least quicker than if you suppressed it).
posted by PsychoKick at 10:51 PM on May 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Isn't it part of cognitive therapy, not to suppress thoughts, but to replace thoughts (such as positive thoughts for negative thoughts)?

So you don't say "Don't think of an elephant." You say "Think of a horse."
posted by eye of newt at 10:56 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you think of a horse amidst elephant dung, you're suppressing.
posted by Mblue at 11:08 PM on May 22, 2009


Quit elephanting around.
posted by Cranberry at 11:27 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I'm up at 3am because I can't stop thinking about some overwhelmingly frustrating workplace politics. I'm not exactly lucid, but the article makes sense to me. On the other hand, I'm only able to read about every fifth word.
posted by bibliowench at 1:56 AM on May 23, 2009


In my own purely anecdotal, unverifiable experience, thoughts behave like flowing water.

In my case, they're more like a weak dribble of urine from an old man with a prostate problem when he gets up to go in the middle of the night.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:23 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey everybody. Think about your breathing. In, out, control it slowly for a little bit. Got it? Good. Now just go back to autonomous breathing.
posted by floam at 2:53 AM on May 23, 2009


I'm so fucking high right now.
posted by chicobangs at 2:58 AM on May 23, 2009


Thanks a lot homoculus. Now I can't stop thinking about that fucking white bear.
posted by digsrus at 3:39 AM on May 23, 2009


"He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence."

-- William Blake
posted by hermitosis at 6:59 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Thoughts are things, and powerful things at that, when they are mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence, and a burning desire for their translation into riches."

--Napoleon Hill

(or to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, etc.)
posted by Bron at 7:13 AM on May 23, 2009


I can't stop thinking about this article!
posted by wittgenstein at 7:14 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Naked Megan Fox, get out of my bed already! Golly gee.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:46 AM on May 23, 2009


Naked Megan Fox, get out of my bed already! Golly gee.

I hate when that happens! You need to shoo her away with a broom. Also, have a squirt bottle handy for next time.
posted by Talanvor at 11:38 AM on May 23, 2009


Until I read this article, I had successfully suppressed the memory of the awful joke some asshole told me last week. Just so you can suppress it too, it involved Dick Cheney having sex.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 12:27 PM on May 23, 2009


Participants who first tried to suppress their thoughts rang the bell almost twice as often as participants in a control group.

I had to go and check the abstract, and it appears that the control group was indeed simply told to think about a white bear for ten minutes. I find it hard to relate to the idea that giving any genuine effort to do that, people couldn't think of white bears pretty much constantly for five minutes. Wouldn't they just be constatntly ringing the bell as fast as they can think? White bears are kind of an interesting thing to think about, at least interesting enough to have five minutes of idle thoughts about. I knew a guy who was chased by a white bear once, but he had a snowmobile and could easily get away. Perhaps one could be distracted into thinking about past friends or snowmobiles or something, but it doesn't take much self-awareness to get back to white bears very quickly indeed. But they say trying not to think about white bears for five minutes is better training for thinking lots of thoughts about white bears than is thinking about white bears for five minutes. I'd have thought you'd run out of white bear-related thoughts after a while, so yeah: counter-intuitive. Okay, that took about five minutes. Done.
posted by sfenders at 3:10 PM on May 23, 2009


"One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else then you're halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it."
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:58 PM on May 23, 2009


Fundies, be warned.
posted by drea at 7:37 PM on May 23, 2009


This never-ending paradox has certainly been the bane of my existence. Now if they could only find some technique or even pill to cure it...
posted by blue shadows at 2:09 AM on May 24, 2009


When I was a freshman in college someone told me, "next time you're bored, try not to think about polar bears." From then on, whenever I was bored in class, I would think about white bears, and doodle in my notebooks. I drew a lot of pictures of freaking white bears during those four years. Thanks a lot, science.
posted by jewzilla at 11:10 PM on May 24, 2009


Reminds me of an aphorism my grandfather told me once: "You can't stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from building nests in your hair." He was talking about having sinful thoughts and not following through with them, like the difference between thinking about having an affair, (which you can't control) and actually having one, (which you can).

Also this reminds me of one of the tenets behind Neuro-Linguistic Programming, that any desired change must be stated in a positive form. From The User's Manual For the Brain:

Stated Positively:
A representation stated in the positive motivates the mind more than a negative representation. Actually, the human mind does not directly process a negative. Suppose someone says to you, "Don't think of poverty!" To process that statement, you will have to think by mentally representing "poverty." You may then try to negate it by crossing it out, letting it fade away, etc. but first you have to represent it. If you tell a child to not go into the street, then first of all, the child will probably see themselves "going into the street!" And children, unfortunately, often forget to negate the representation after creating it! ("Don't eat those delicious cookies!") This realization about mental processing informs us about how and why we often end up doing exactly the opposite of what we ask of others or ourselves. Wee need to ask ourselves, "What kind of image does my question or statement create in the person's mind?"

By definition, an outcome describes what we positively want to accomplish. it describes something you want, not what you don't want. We feel far more motivated to accomplish a positive outcome than a negative outcome. So we should not state outcomes using negations: "I am going to stop smoking." That describes what we aim to not do (a negation). Every time you think of your outcome of stopping smoking, you internally imagine doing that very thing you want to stop doing. You have to think of what you don't want to be doing -- smoking. And, as we think so we will become.

We should phrase it as a positive outcome: "I will take care of my health." To think of this outcome, we imagine looking and feeling healthy. And if we think (represent) health, we will more likely experience health since we continue to send positive messages not only to our "mind," but also to our neurology.
posted by daHIFI at 10:24 AM on May 26, 2009


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