A study of the effects of thought suppression techniques

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Lin, Yi-Jen

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Some prior research has shown that thought suppression may lead to the rebound of to-be-suppressed thoughts, while focused-distraction may not. In order to replicate the effects of suppression and focused-distraction and also to investigate whether a more approach-based method, concentration, would be more effective in reducing unwanted thoughts than the other two strategies, this study compared the effects of suppression, focused-distraction, and concentration techniques on controlling unwanted distressing thoughts, and examined how affective reactions and prior experience were associated with the use of these techniques and the occurrence of to-be-suppressed thoughts. In the study, college students were told either to suppress thoughts about a distressing story, to suppress the same thoughts by focusing on an alternative distraction task, to simply concentrate on that alternative task, or to think about anything without restrictions for six minutes. This initial period was followed by a “free-thinking” period to assess the delayed effect of thought suppression techniques. As predicted, the results indicated that focused-distraction and concentration led to fewer intrusions of target thoughts than suppression, and concentration in turn resulted in fewer target intrusions than focused-distraction during the initial period. Subjects in the focused-distraction and concentration condition also tended to report lower anxiety during the initial period than those who were told to suppress thoughts. However, no difference was found in intrusions of target thoughts or anxiety among conditions for the subsequent free-thinking period. Also, the results revealed no evidence of an immediate increase in target thoughts or of a postsuppresional rebound effect for suppression or the other two strategies. In addition, the present study found that during the initial period, higher anxiety, greater perceived distress toward the story, more prior experience, and higher scores on the White bear Suppression Inventory were associated with more target thought intrusions for all conditions combined. During the second period, higher anxiety, higher suppression attempts, and lower self-efficacy were related to more target thought intrusions for all conditions combined. It was also found that higher ratings of suppression attempts were associated with more target thought intrusions during both Period 1 and Period 2 for the suppression condition.