Suppress That Thought (Not!)

Have you ever had a song you just couldn’t get out of your head? Laid awake fretting about your need to fall asleep? Or had some other unwanted thought that simply wouldn’t go away? (…that you then tweeted or posted on FaceBook…? …you know who you are…) Does it feel a bit like, “I have met the enemy, and he is…me?”

Thanks to this post from PsyBlog, even though your mind may feel like the enemy, now you’ll know it’s really just looking out for you. 

Since at least 1987, studies have shown that the more we try to suppress a thought, the more it intrudes. Have you ever been the subject of an enthusiastic professor asking you not to think about the “white bear”? The tendency of that thing-we-don’t-want-to-think-about to come back even more, when we try not to think about it, is known as the ‘post-suppression rebound effect’. And the stronger the thought’s emotional content, the more strongly it rebounds.

And isn’t it ironic… don’t you think
It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid…

To over-simplify, and probably upset dozens of scientists who really know what they’re talking about, it goes something like this.

Your brain:

  1. “Supress that thought. Suppress that thought. Suppress that thought.”
  2. “Ah, good. It’s gone. Hurray. Hurray, it’s gone! It’s gone.”
  3. “Wait. Is it really gone? Maybe I’m thinking about it and just don’t realize it. I better check to make sure I’m not really thinking about it.”
  4. “Argh. There it is. Of course I’m thinking about it. How could I know what I’m looking to see, if I can’t remember what it is I’m supposed to be forgetting?”
  5. Rinse and repeat 

I know. Not quite as lyrical as Alanis Morrisette. But isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

So what’s a would-be forgetter to do? Isn’t that obvious now?

Stop trying, and just forgedda’bou d’it.

Please see PsyBlog’s post for more complete access to studies, details and image credits (kineda). We simply took their brilliant post and over-simplified it.