If you’ve tried to suppress a thought that you felt was negative, it more than always seems to come back stronger or become more present instead of going away. That’s the common belief in today’s world of psychology, which emphasizes trying not to suppress negative thoughts because it doesn’t help them diminish over time. A new study is changing how people think about that.
The University of Cambridge challenges this long-held belief that thinking about something leads to thinking about it more. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know more about the brain’s inhibitory control, and if it could be applied to negative thoughts. By following 120 international participants, the team believes they have uncovered a new way to look at how we should reframe our thoughts for the best success in quieting negative thoughts.
The participants were asked to identify negative, positive, and neutral thoughts that have been intrusive and could possibly occur in the near future. They were asked to visualize the event and associate it with a trigger word. For the next three days, the participants took part in trainings over Zoom where they were asked to either stop themselves from thinking about the event after the trigger word, or were asked to imagine the event in as much detail as they could.
The post-study mental health questionnaires after the third day and then after 3 months passed revealed that those participants who were asked to suppress those thoughts were having less negative emotions about the potential events. Mostly everyone who practiced this was feeling better even three months later.
Zulkayda Mamat, Michael C. Anderson. Improving mental health by training the suppression of unwanted thoughts. Science Advances, 2023; 9 (38) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adh5292