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For over two decades researchers have shown that there are unexpected consequences when an individual actively tries to avoid certain thoughts. First, you will start thinking about the thought you are trying to avoid more. Second, if the thought is about a behaviour, you increase the likelihood of engaging in that behaviour. In short, avoidance makes you less able to control what you think and what you do. Further research is necessary to explore why thought avoidance is such a prolific self- control strategy when all available evidence points to its counterintuitive consequences
Thoughts on suppression: how trying not to think of an action might lead
you down that very path
James Erskine and George Georgiou
For over two decades researchers have shown that there are unexpected
consequences when an individual actively tries to avoid certain thoughts. First,
you will start thinking about the thought you are trying to avoid more. Second, if
the thought is about a behaviour, you increase the likelihood of engaging in that
behaviour. In short, avoidance makes you less able to control what you think
and what you do. Further research is necessary to explore why thought
avoidance is such a prolific self-control strategy when all available evidence
points to its counterintuitive consequences.
How many times have you resisted thinking about something because
you were afraid you might do it? Something perhaps unthinkable, or merely
mildly wanton. For example, you may try not to think about an attractive co-
worker in an effort to avoid difficult entanglements, or you may try not to think
about crème brûlée when on a diet. But what are the consequences of these
avoidances? Do they work, or do they somehow propel us towards the very act
we are attempting to avoid?
This question has been posed before in the guise of classic literature.
For example Dostoyevsky’s work is replete with examples of ordinary people
who felt the urge to act in a certain way – the young man walking in the city
centre alone at night entertaining thoughts of visiting a prostitute that he finds
abhorrent. He suppresses these thoughts in an effort to avoid the act, yet
moments later he finds himself at the coquette’s door. These phenomena form
the focus of this article: we will review how thought suppression may lead us to
become our own worst enemy.
Early work on thought suppression
Thought suppression commonly refers to the act of deliberately trying to
rid the mind of unwanted thoughts (Wegner, 1989). In early investigations
researchers demonstrated that the suppression of a particular thought often
resulted in the subsequent increased return of the unwanted thought, a
phenomenon termed the ‘rebound effect’ (Wegner et al., 1987). This basic effect
has been replicated on many occasions, and a more recent meta-analysis
suggests the rebound effect is robust (Ambramowitz et al., 2001; Wenzlaff &
Wegner, 2000). Therefore, there is currently a general acceptance of the view
that thought suppression does not work as a strategy for controlling one’s mind,
and if anything makes one more susceptible to unwanted intrusive thoughts. For
example, after watching a disturbing news item, I may attempt to suppress
thoughts about this disturbing footage. However, the likely outcome of this will
be that I will think about the footage more not less, and I may even begin to feel
obsessed (Markowitz & Purdon, 2008). Indeed, because of the frequent
intrusiveness of formally suppressed thoughts, suppression has been implicated
in the potential maintenance and causes of a wide variety of mental health
issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder,
anxiety and depression (Erskine et al., 2007; Purdon, 1999; Wegner & Zanakos,
1994). In a related vein, Freud (1901/1990) in his classic book The
Psychopathology of Everyday Life described moments when people blurt out
things that they are trying to suppress. Critically he noticed that the suppression
(or repression in his terminology) was heavily implicated in these later acts of
vocal impulsivity.
Thought suppression and behaviour
Previous work has typically focused on the effects of thought
suppression on later levels of intrusion. However, few studies have investigated
what happens when someone suppresses a thought with an associated
behaviour, for example, thoughts about resisting another glass of wine or
spilling the hot coffee one is carrying. Critically, Baumeister and colleagues
have suggested that thought suppression is frequently used to avoid behaviours
as well as thoughts (Baumeister et al., 1994). The key question concerns
whether a person suppressing thoughts about a behaviour will paradoxically
become more likely to engage in that behaviour later. This question is important
as many instances of the use of thought suppression may be in the service of
behavioural goals rather than mental goals. For example, I suppress thoughts of
my attractive co-worker not to avoid thinking of her but to avoid acting on these
thoughts. Furthermore, thinking of crème brûlée is not in and of itself
dangerous; we suppress the crème brûlée to avoid coping with the difficult act
of not eating it. This question is significant because the proposed mechanism
responsible for the return of formerly suppressed thoughts should also make the
behaviour (if there is an associated behaviour) more likely.
Wegner’s (1994) ironic process theory suggests that when people try to
suppress thoughts this activates two distinct processes. First, it sets up an
operating process that tries to create the state of mind one wants. It therefore
acts to seek out contents that are in agreement with the desired state (i.e.
anything other than the suppressed item). This process is deemed to be
conscious and effortful, and it appears why thought suppression feels like hard
work. For example when suppressing thoughts of highly craved snack food, we
seek out other less dangerous thoughts to distract ourselves. However, Wegner
(1994) suggests that thought suppression also sets in operation another more
automatic process that he terms the monitoring process. This searches
continually for thoughts indicating that one has failed the suppression task.
Therefore, this process looks for the presence of the suppressed thought. This
has the paradoxical effect of sensitising the mind to the very thought one is
seeking to avoid, or in more cognitive terms it raises the activation level of the
suppressed thought. This is problematic because many studies have now
indicated that raising the accessibility of a concept by a variety of means makes
it more likely that that concept will spring to mind more frequently (Bargh, 1997)
and potentially be enacted (Bargh et al., 1996). Furthermore, several studies
have now indicated that thought suppression directly leads the suppressed item
to gain activation (Klein, 2007; Wegner & Erber, 1992).
In line with this argument, studies have reported that thought
suppression can have behavioural consequences. Thus, Macrae et al. (1994)
demonstrated that participants suppressing thoughts about a skinhead
subsequently chose to sit further away from a skinhead when offered a free
choice of seats relative to participants that had not previously suppressed. In
addition, in line with the ironic process theory, Wegner and colleagues have
demonstrated that trying to fall asleep quickly or relax under stress results in
these processes taking longer or one becoming more anxious (Ansfield et al.,
1996; Wegner et al., 1997). Furthermore, participants suppressing the urge to
move a pendulum in a certain direction reliably moved the pendulum in that
precise direction. In a related study, participants suppressing thoughts of over-
putting a golf ball made that error more often if also under simultaneous mental
load (Wegner et al., 1998).
These phenomena are not uncommon in everyday life. How many times
have you carried a tray of food or drink thinking whatever happens I must not
spill this, only to then redecorate the living room with it? These errors seem to
plague us and chastise us all the more so because we knew exactly what we
shouldn’t have done ahead of time. Thereby, it seems that the act of trying not
to, or suppressing invites one to do exactly the opposite (Wegner, 2009).
Although the studies discussed are useful behavioural demonstrations of
the phenomenon, the actions implicated were not highly consequential (unless
one is a golf professional). With this in mind, Erskine and colleagues set out to
investigate whether similar behavioural effects of thought suppression might be
found with highly consequential behaviours such as eating, smoking and
drinking. Would suppressing thoughts of food, smoking or drinking result in
greater subsequent enactment of these particular behaviours? Across four
studies these phenomena were reported. Thus, Erskine (2008) had participants
suppress thoughts of chocolate and then take part in a supposedly unrelated
taste preference task. Importantly participants that had previously suppressed
chocolate thoughts went on to consume significantly more chocolate than the
control group that had not previously suppressed. Erskine and Georgiou (2010)
replicated these findings, while showing that participants high on restrained
eating (commensurate with a chronic tendency to diet) demonstrated the
behavioural rebound whereas participants low on restraint did not. Thus, the
very participants likely to use thought suppression (chronic dieters) were also
those most susceptible to behavioural rebound effects.
In a more recent study Erskine et al. (2010) examined the effects of
trying not to think about smoking on the number of cigarettes subsequently
consumed. Participants kept a diary for three weeks of the number of cigarettes
smoked per day. During weeks 1 and 3 all participants merely monitored their
intake. In week 2 one third suppressed thoughts of cigarettes, one third actively
thought about smoking (expression group) and the final third just monitored
without suppressing or expressing. Critically all participants were told not to
attempt to alter their behaviour during any week but to smoke as they normally
would. Results showed that for the expression and control group the number of
cigarettes smoked did not vary across the weeks. For the suppression group
the number of cigarettes smoked rose significantly in the week following
suppression. Importantly, we also have preliminary data showing a similar
naturalistic effect of suppressing thoughts of alcohol.
In a related study examining the links between different types of
behaviour, Palfai and colleagues (1997) examined the effects of suppressing
thoughts of alcohol on later smoking behaviour, as these behaviours are
frequently linked. Results indicated that suppressing alcohol resulted in
participants smoking more intensively – taking greater puffs and of a longer
duration, relative to participants that had not suppressed. This shows that
suppression of a particular thought can also result in an increase in the enacting
of an associated behaviour.
Other studies indicate that the effects of thought suppression may also
affect sexual behaviour. Thus, Johnston et al. (1997) investigated the
suppression of sexual thoughts in sex offenders of two types – preferential child
molesters and situational child molesters. Preferential child molesters are those
that show a definite preference for sexual relations with children, while
situational child molesters are those that do not necessarily prefer children but
who engage in sexual relations with minors for other reasons. Critically,
Johnston, Hudson and Ward (1997) showed that preferential sexual offenders
that suppressed sexual thoughts demonstrated post-suppression
hyperaccessibility of thoughts relating to child molestation, whereas situational
child molesters or non-molesters did not. This is important because as we have
already seen hyperaccessibility following thought suppression can make
thinking and acting more likely. These findings may explain the often surprising
incidence of sexual offending among people least suspected of behaving in this
way, for example priests. They have generally spent years suppressing sexual
urges and thoughts and this may in part explain some of the incidents of sexual
offending. In a further article Johnston Ward and Hudson (1997) argue that
using thought suppression in the treatment of sexual offenders may not be
The limitations of the effects of behavioural rebound
Whilst it seems that the effects of thought suppression on behaviour are
widespread it is premature to conclude that these are general effects of thought
suppression and that any suppressed thought linked to a behaviour may
rebound. Several sources of evidence suggest that in order to obtain
behavioural rebounds the suppressed thought must already be motivationally
interesting to the individual. For example, Erskine and Georgiou (2010) found
that behavioural rebounds with food-related thoughts may only occur in
participants that have a pre-existing tendency towards restrained eating
(indicating that they try to diet). Furthermore, although Erskine et al. (2010)
obtained behavioural rebound with smoking behaviour, all of the participants
were regular smokers for over one year, it therefore remains an open question
whether suppression of smoking thoughts in non-daily light social smokers
would ‘cause’ the same post-suppression smoking increase.
Importantly, two studies examining post-suppression hyperaccessibility
only demonstrated this in participants that reported previous motivational
tendencies towards the behaviour in question. Thus, Klein (2007) found
hyperaccessibility following suppression of alcohol thoughts in abstinent
alcoholics but not in non-alcoholics. Furthermore, Johnston, Hudson and Ward
(1997) reported hyperaccessibility to sexual and child-related concepts in
preferential child molesters, but not in situational child molesters or non-sexual
offenders. If the mechanism that causes behavioural rebound to occur is a
result of the hyperaccessibility caused by prior suppression, the behaviour in
question may therefore need to be motivationally interesting to the individual
before they suppress in order to cause behaviour rebounds. This is important as
it suggests that the people most susceptible to behaviour rebounds may well be
the people most likely to attempt to control themselves via these means,
because they realise that they are attracted to things that they want to avoid.
Effects of thought suppression on one’s perception of actions
One final note needs to be made of thought suppression effects and
time. Mostly, you suppress a thought, then get on with something else and the
suppressed thought returns later. The results with behaviour mirror this pattern -
you suppress a thought linked to a behaviour and the behaviour rebounds later.
This is particularly pernicious, as it does not allow individuals to notice the
causal significance of thought suppression in the later occurrence of the
rebounded behaviour. For example, if I close a door and at the same time a light
comes on in the room, I may perceive my closing of the door to have caused
the light to go on, even though I know that the two objects are not usually
causally related. Yet with thought suppression the return of the suppressed
thought or behaviour happens after the suppression has finished, which does
not allow me to see how my prior act of suppression has ‘caused’ the later
One other finding of note in the thought suppression literature suggests
that thought suppression can also affect what people perceive as having
caused the action that they have performed. Thus, Wegner and Erskine (2003)
had participants perform simple everyday actions, such as lifting a brick, while
either thinking about the action, suppressing thinking about the action, or
thinking about anything they wished. Critically when participants thought about
the action while doing it they felt like they had acted more wilfully and caused
the action to a greater degree. When they suppressed thinking about what they
were doing they reported feeling like the action was not caused by them but just
happened. There lies the rub of thought suppression: it seems a particularly
dangerous way to attempt to control yourself.
Overcoming the behavioural effects of thought suppression
Importantly, the research does suggest several promising avenues for
minimising the potential negative behavioural effects of thought suppression.
Firstly, one must avoid using thought suppression in instances where one is
attempting to control a behaviour. This is especially pertinent when attempting
to control behaviours such as smoking, excessive alcohol or food intake, as
these are likely areas where thought suppression will feature as a control
strategy. For example Erskine and Georgiou (2010) and Erskine et al. (2010)
demonstrated that thinking about chocolate or smoking (respectively) did not
lead to greater subsequent consumption, whereas suppression did. This
suggests that contrary to intuition, thinking about an act might not be as
dangerous as we feel. Secondly, the fact that suppression seems to interact
with one’s pre-existing motivational tendencies seems to imply that one should
become more aware of their danger areas. For example, the research from
Klein (2007) and Johnston, Hudson and Ward (1997) suggests that only people
who are motivationally predisposed to a particular behaviour will show
hyperaccessibility following suppression. Therefore, it is vital that these findings
are investigated further as they identify which individuals (and under what
circumstances) are more susceptible to behavioural effects following thought
suppression. Once one becomes aware of one’s danger areas it is important to
again seek to avoid using suppression. Importantly, research is starting to
examine potential ways to enable individuals to reduce their reliance on thought
suppression as a coping strategy. Most promising among these methods is
mindfulness meditation that focuses on accepting rather than avoiding certain
thoughts. Studies have already demonstrated that using mindfulness meditation
leads to reductions in the use of thought suppression and better control over
certain behaviours (Bowen et al., 2007).
In summary, research is converging on the view that thought suppression can
lead you to undertake actions that you were deliberately seeking to avoid.
Worse still, it can make you feel as though the act happened without ‘you’
intending. We believe that this vital research domain needs further emphasis
due to its high potential to explain the many occasions of everyday life where
we seem to act against our own best interests.
James A.K. Erskine is in the School of Population Health Sciences and
Education, St George’s, University of London
George J. Georgiou is in the School of Psychology, University of
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... Thought suppression (i.e., trying not to think about something ) may cause a post-suppression rebound effect, whereby the individual comes to think about the to-be-avoided thought more often rather than less often (Clark, Ball, & Pape, 1991; Wegner, Schneider, Carter, & White, 1987). Furthermore, thought suppression may increase behavior associated with the suppressed thought (Erskine & Georgiou, 2011). For example, suppressing thoughts of food may increase subsequent food consumption (Erskine, 2008;). ...
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Studies indicate that while suppressing smoking thoughts increases subsequent smoking, it may have no impact on desire to smoke. However, previous research has examined suppression of general smoking thoughts rather than thoughts specifically related to desire to smoke. The present study investigated whether suppression of thoughts of desire to smoke results in subsequently elevated ratings of desire to smoke. An experimental study examined the effects of suppressing thoughts of desire to smoke, versus expressing thoughts of desire to smoke, versus a control group thinking about anything, on ratings of desire to smoke and tobacco withdrawal symptoms at four time points (before manipulations, just after manipulations, 5 min after, 10 min after). In addition, effects of suppressing thoughts of desire to smoke on subsequent reports of thoughts of desire to smoke were examined. Suppressing the thoughts of desire to smoke caused thought rebound (i.e., greater subsequent reports of thoughts of desire to smoke). However, compared with control groups, this suppression did not elevate subsequent ratings of desire to smoke. Suppressing the thoughts of desire to smoke does not elevate subsequent ratings of this desire. Increased cigarette consumption following suppression of smoking thoughts may be mediated by mechanisms other than increased desire to smoke.
A study investigated how the ability to suppress thoughts in the laboratory was affected by type of thought suppressed (positive, negative, neutral), participants' age and working memory capacity (WMC). Linked variables (Use of thought suppression, social desirability, and mindfulness) were measured to assess whether they modified susceptibility to thought intrusion. Younger, middle aged and older adults suppressed three different valenced thoughts in a counterbalanced order for 5-min per thought. Participants then completed a WMC task and questionnaire measures of the linked variables. Valence had no effect on intrusions. WMC was positively related to intrusions; higher WMC corresponded to greater intrusions. Age was negatively related to intrusions; with increasing age intrusions decreased. Hierarchical regression showed only age and backward digit span (WMC) significantly predicted intrusions. The relationship between WMC and intrusions was not moderated by age. WMC and age both independently predict level of intrusion, and no synergistic effect was found.
Research to understand how individuals cope with intrusive negative or threatening thoughts suggests a variety of different cognitive strategies aimed at thought control. In this review, two of these strategies – thought suppression and repressive coping – are discussed in the context of addictive behaviour. Thought suppression involves conscious, volitional attempts to expel a thought from awareness, whereas repressive coping, which involves the avoidance of thoughts without the corresponding conscious intention, appears to be a far more automated process. Whilst there has been an emerging body of research exploring the role of thought suppression in addictive behaviour, there remains a dearth of research which has considered the role of repressive coping in the development of, and recovery from, addiction. Based on a review of the literature, and a discussion of the supposed mechanisms which underpin these strategies for exercising mental control, a conceptual model is proposed which posits a potential common mechanism. This model makes a number of predictions which require exploration in future research to fully understand the cognitive strategies utilised by individuals to control intrusive thoughts related to their addictive behaviour.
Historically, cognitive researchers have largely ignored the domain of sport in their quest to understand how the mind works. This neglect is due, in part, to the limitations of the information processing paradigm that dominated cognitive psychology in its formative years. With the emergence of the embodiment approach to cognition, however, sport has become a dynamic natural laboratory in which to investigate the relationship between thinking and skilled action. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to explore some insights into the relationship between thinking and action that have emerged from recent research on exceptional performance states (e.g., ‘flow’ and ‘choking’) in athletes. The paper begins by explaining why cognitive psychologists’ traditional indifference to sport has been replaced by a more enthusiastic attitude in recent years. The next section provides some insights into the relationship between thinking and skilled action that have emerged from research on ‘flow’ (or peak performance) and ‘choking’ (or impaired performance) experiences in athletes. The third section of the paper explores some practical issues that arise when athletes seek to exert conscious control over their thoughts in competitive situations. The final part of the paper considers the implications of research on thinking in action in sport for practical attempts to improve thinking skills in domains such as business organizations and schools.
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Cognitive-behavioral models of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) assert that negative appraisals of obsessional thoughts lead to distress over the thoughts and drive ameliorative actions such as thought suppression and compulsions. These responses in turn play a role in the persistence of the disorder. However, past research has not examined (a) what factors lead individuals to suppress obsessional thoughts; (b) whether certain predictors and consequences relate to suppression uniquely or can be explained by general factors such as negative mood and neuroticism; or (c) individuals' natural active suppression of obsessions. The current study addresses these limitations by examining the roles of natural suppression and distress over thought intrusions in the thought-appraisal/OC symptoms relationship while controlling for general factors. Ninety-one nonclinical participants completed a variety of measures assessing theoretically relevant constructs. After their obsessional thought was primed, they recorded their thoughts for 6 minutes and then rated their suppression effort. Four hours later, longer-term outcomes were assessed. Path analyses supported most components of cognitive-behavioral models.
People sometimes find themselves making movement errors that represent the ironic opposite of what they intended to do. These studies examined this tendency in the case of putting a golf ball and swinging a handheld pendulum, and found that ironic errors were particularly likely when participants who were instructed to avoid them tried to do so under mental load or physical load. The idea that such errors may be prompted by a monitoring process that increases sensitivity to the most undesirable outcome of an intention was supported by the finding of a tendency for ironic errors to be more evident when participants were allowed to monitor their action visually than when they could not.
The cognitive and emotional demands of modern life mean that it has become increasingly important to learn how to manage effectively our mental processes and behavior. Central to the achievement of mental control is the suppression, or inhibiton, of unwanted or inappropriate thoughts or behaviors. Our recent work has considered the potential utility of instructing individuals to suppress sexually deviant thoughts as a therapy technique for sexual offenders. Of special concern was the subsequent hyperaccessibility, or “rebound,” of the very thoughts which were previously suppressed. The present study is a preliminary experimental investigation of the ability of incarcerated child molesters to suppress unwanted sexual thoughts and the subsequent impact of this suppression on the accessibility of the suppressed thoughts. Participants completed an articulated thoughts task under instructions to suppress sex-related thoughts or under no specific instructions. Suppression instructions reduced the incidence of sex-related thoughts. In a subsequent color naming task (Stroop Task), the accessibility of the previously suppressed thoughts was tested. Both sex-related and child-related words were more accessible after prior suppression instructions for preferential child molesters than for either situational child molesters or nonsexual offenders. Implications for treatment of sexual offenders and for offender typology are discussed.
The clinical literature has long illustrated the paradoxical findings that deliberate attempts to suppress particular thoughts actually increase their occurrence. These unwanted, often intrusive, thoughts that are a major feature of obsessive disorders, depression, sleep disorders, and a range of other disturbances are of particular clinical concern. The exploration of psychological factors associated with cognitive control is, then, clinically relevant. In the current article we consider the role of mental control, especially thought suppression, in explaining the occurrence of unwanted thoughts, specifically in relation to deviant sexual thoughts. Many features of sexual offending, such as the effects of stress or strong affective states on offending and the rapid escalation in severity and frequency of sexual offending, reported by both therapists and researchers, can be explained by the mental control literature. In addition, the role of suppression in therapy for sexual offenders and its implications for relapse are considered. We argue that the use of suppression techniques by therapists is not sufficient to prevent the occurrence of sexually deviant thoughts and the recurrence of sexual offenses. Therapists also must teach offenders to manage stress effectively and to develop appropriate beliefs about what is controllable. Making suppression techniques automatic and avoiding high‐risk situations for offending are also important skills for the offender to learn in therapy.
Recent studies on the co-occurrent use of alcohol and tobacco have suggested that efforts to control the use of one substance may influence the use of the other. However, little is known about how cognitive strategies used to regulate the use of one substance may affect cross-substance use. In this study, 50 social drinkers who were daily smokers were exposed to the sight and smell of their favorite alcoholic beverage under instructions to either monitor or suppress their urge for alcohol. During a subsequent trial, participants were permitted to smoke while smoking topography was assessed. Although urge ratings were not influenced by instructional set, participants who had previously suppressed their urge to drink alcohol showed more intense smoking behavior than those who had monitored. Results are discussed in terms of the cross-substance effects of urge suppression and their implications for polysubstance treatment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
The tendency to use thought suppression in everyday life as assessed by the White Bear Suppression Inventory (WBSI) has been related to several psychopathological and personality factors. However, previous research has primarily investigated a limited set of psychopathological factors and their relation to the use of thought suppression in younger adults only. Virtually nothing is known about the relation between thought suppression and psychopathology in older adults. The present study examined a wide variety of variables that have been theoretically and empirically linked to thought suppression and used regression models to predict the tendency to suppress thoughts in everyday life, in both younger (mean age 20) and older (mean age 73) adult samples. Results demonstrated that in both samples, the use of thought suppression was best predicted by rumination and trait anxiety. In addition, young participants had significantly higher WBSI scores than older adults but this age difference disappeared when controlling for low levels of anxiety and rumination in older adults.
Normal sleepers were instructed either to fall asleep as quickly as they could or to fall asleep whenever they desired, under a high mental load (listening to John Philip Sousa marches) or a low mental load (listening to sleep-conducive new age music). Under low load, participants trying to fall asleep quickly did so faster than those attempting only to fall asleep whenever they desired. Under high load, however, and consistent with the ironic process theory of mental control (Wegner, D. M., 1994, Psychological Review, 101, 34-52), sleep onset latency was greater for participants attempting to fall asleep quickly than for those not attempting to do so.
Two studies found that intentional relaxation under conditions of mental load or stress produces ironic increases in skin conductance level (SCL). In Experiment 1, participants instructed to relax under the high mental load of rehearsing a long number had higher SCL than those instructed to relax under low load, and tended to have higher SCL than those under high load not instructed to relax. In Experiment 2, participants were instructed to relax or were not so instructed while they answered questions described either as measures of IQ or as unimportant. Those in the more loading and stressful situation who were asked to relax had greater SCL during the questions than those not asked to relax.
Participants were asked to carry out a series of simple tasks while following mental control instructions. In advance of each task, they either suppressed thoughts of their intention to perform the task, concentrated on such thoughts, or monitored their thoughts without trying to change them. Suppression resulted in reduced reports of intentionality as compared to monitoring, and as compared to concentration. There was a weak trend for suppression to enhance reported intentionality for a repetition of the action carried out after suppression instructions had been discontinued.
Abstinent alcoholics were compared to a non-alcoholic control group on a modified Stroop color-naming task. Alcoholics took significantly longer to name the color of the word "alcohol" than to name the color of non-alcohol words (i.e., they showed an interference effect) after they had first tried to suppress thoughts of alcohol. Alcoholics who had freely expressed thoughts about alcohol prior to the Stroop did not show such interference. Control participants who had suppressed thoughts of alcohol showed no interference effect. The results overall suggest that when alcoholics try to suppress thoughts of alcohol, these thoughts may become hyperaccessible immediately afterward.