The conscious suppression of a thought is a difficult thing to do. Just trying for a few minutes not to think of white bear, for example, can be perplexing. But people seem intent on trying to suppress unwanted thoughts nonetheless. Thoughts of frightening events or depressing losses are targets of suppression, and people also may suppress thoughts of food, alcohol, or other temptations they hope to avoid. This research explores thought suppression by asking people to suppress thoughts under various laboratory conditions. Prior studies have shown that when people try to do this, they usually are capable of avoiding the target thought after a while by distracting themselves with other things. The studies in the project address two fundamental questions about this process. How does self.distraction operate, and what consequences can thought suppression be expected to have? The studies of how self.distraction operates examine how people suppress thoughts most effectively, and thus these studies have implications for the treatment of alcohol and substance addiction. The studies of the consequences of thought suppression focus on the possibility that suppressed thoughts may influence a person's thinking, emotions, and social interactions..even though the thoughts are seemingly absent. Thought suppression may make an unwanted thought more easily brought to mind, may make exciting thoughts unusually likely to produce physiological agitation and anxiousness, and may promote such preoccupation with the unwanted thought that people find they cannot steer their social interactions in the directions they wish them to go. Taken together, these studies will introduce new knowledge on whether and when people should use thought suppression, and the consequences..both agreeable and harmful.that can be expected as a result.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jean B. Intermaggio
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Trinity University
San Antonio
United States
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