People often reject unwanted thoughts and then replace them with their own. According to a study, proactive prevention of an association can be more efficient and help avoid repetitive looping of undesirable thoughts. PLOS Computational biology Isaac Fradkin and EranEldar, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)
Most people are familiar with the experience of trying to stop thinking repetitive thoughts. A cue can often evoke unfavorable memories or thoughts. These unwanted associations must be removed from the mind.
Researchers studied the ways that 80 English-speaking adults were able to create new associations for common words in a new study. Participants viewed words and were required to enter the associated word. One group was told that they wouldn’t receive any monetary bonuses for repeating associations. Participants in the other group had to suppress their thoughts about previous inputs.
The researchers used computational models to simulate how people avoid repeated associations. They looked at participants’ reactions and the effectiveness of their ability to generate new associations. They found that most people use reactive control to reject unwanted associations once they are already in their minds. “This reactive control can be problematic,” they state. They believe that thoughts can reinforce one another, and increase their memory strength, increasing the chance of it recurring. This means that every time we reject an unwelcome association, it can grow stronger. However, it is important to note that people can sometimes partially prevent this from happening if they wish to make sure that such thoughts are as minimal as possible.
Fradkin states that even though people can’t avoid undesirable thoughts, they can make sure that having an unwelcome thought doesn’t increase the chance of it happening again. “The current study focused only on negative associations. Future studies will determine if our findings apply to negatively and personally relevant unwanted thoughts.”
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