Wegner, D. M., & Schneider, D. J., Carter, S.R.III, & White,
T.L., Paradoxical Effects of Thought Suppression, JPSP, 1987, 53, 636-647
Thought suppression seems to have the opposite effects and makes people
fixate on it. Yet what happens when people make a conscious effort to avoid
a particular thought? People seem to include information in judgements
when they are told to ignore or disregard the information or when they are
told the info is false.
The attempt to avoid thoughts may lead to a later preoccupation with such
Two groups were asked to verbalize for five minute periods. Some groups
were first asked to verbalize without thinking about a white bear and should
ring a bell if they do so. Others were given no such instruction. Later
they were to verbalize about a white bear. Some were asked to verbalize
about the bear first and then try to suppress it.
People thought of the white bear about once per minute even when asked to
suppress. Initial suppression seems to produce even more expression in
the later verbalization period about the white bear. Bell rings per minute
increased on ly in expression segments made by the initial suppression group.
These folks had an accelerating tendency to report the thoughts when asked
to verbalize about the white bear.
Thus supressing a thought produces a subsequent preoccupation with the thought.
Thought suppression is hard. Supression is hard because the thought "not
white bear" is not focused. Thinking about another thought becomes
tiring, and then people ask themselves "What am I doing?" They
are then reminded about the white bear.
However, during the supression all the things people think about become
associated with the negative cue (white bear), creating more associations
that can be used in the expression period.
People were instructed to think about a red Volkswagen to avoid thinking
about the white bear. Though they did think about the red Volkswagen, it
did not affect the frequency of white bear thoughts. However in the expression
phase the "rebound effect" was reduced by the prior positive cue.
It appears the focused-misdirection reduces the number of "not white
bear" associations that affect subsequent expression frequenticies
and fixations. Their findings support the idea that supression can have
negative side effects.