This new study could help people control their thoughts

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This new study could help people control their thoughts

Unwanted thoughts creep into the mind without being able to control. This new study offers an approach accessible to all, capable of limiting these unwelcome thoughts. It consists in observing the differences between reactive control and proactive control. Reactive control tries to reject or suppress an unwanted thought, while proactive control prevents the unwanted thought from reaching the mind.


A young man who has a negative thought.

Telling someone not to think of a polar bear will ultimately make them think of a polar bear, that’s the « polar bear problem “. In the case of a reactive control, the person will try to distract themselves from the polar bear as soon as it comes to their mind. However, the brain may be able to prevent a thought from reaching the conscious mind before the need to distract oneself from it, this is proactive control.

It is possible to achieve proactive control by doing it intentionally

To better understand proactive control, the researchers simplified the process by focusing on word associations. The researchers found that many people relied on the reactive control. On the other hand, the data revealed that it was possible to weaken certain thoughts when people were actively contributing to them.

The researchers gathered 80 volunteers. The experiment consisted in finding new associations to 60 common words displayed one by one on a screen. Every word has been presented five times randomly. The participants were separated into two groups. In one, they were informed that they would not be paces remunerated if they repeated associationswhile the other did not receive this instruction.

The researchers used a computer model to analyze reaction times and responses. They found that volunteers trying to avoid repetition were thinking of previously used words, then rejected them, it is a reactive control. However, the data also revealed that these people somehow managed to escape repetitionit is a kind of proactive control.

Therapeutic approaches could emerge from future research

In this experiment, repeated words represent repeated thoughts in general. It is possible to proactively practice in order to prevent these thoughts from coming back. Unfortunately, the current study cannot yet show how to move from reactive to proactive thought control.

This study focused on the associations of neutral words and does not yet answer all the questions. Future studies should therefore be directed towards further research using the negative unwanted thoughts. This could perhaps lead to ideas for various therapeutic approaches.

SOURCE: SCIENCEALERT

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