Thought Suppression

How do you stop thinking about a white bear? It turns out that this question—asked originally by Dostoyevsky (1863) in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions—does not have an easy answer. People who are prompted to try not to think about a white bear while they are thinking out loud will tend to mention it about once a minute. Since the initial experimental studies of this phenomenon by Wegner, Schneider, Carter, and White (1987), there have been many further explorations of the futility of suppression. It seems that many of us are drawn into what seems a simple task, to stop a thought, when we want to stop thinking of something because it is fleftening, disgusting, odd, inconvenient, or just annoying. And when we succumb to that initial impulse to stop, the snowballing begins. We try and fail, and try again, and find that the thought is ever more insistent for all our trying. Many studies reveal that suppression may be the starting point for obsession, rather than the other way around. As a result, we end up thinking all too often about the doubts, worries, fears, and alarms that we have tried to erase from mind.

Publications

  • Wegner, D. M. (2011). Setting free the bears: Escape from thought suppression. American Psychologist, 66, 671-680.
  • Najmi, S., Reese, H., Wilhelm, S., Fama, J., Beck, C., & Wegner, D. M. (2010). Learning the futility of the thought suppression enterprise in normal experience and in obsessive compulsive disorder. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 38, 1-14.
  • Wegner, D. M. (2010). When you put things out of mind, where do they go? In M. A. Gernsbacher, R. W. Pew, L. Hough, & J. R. Pomerantz (Eds.), Psychology in the real world (pp. 114-120). New York: Worth.
  • Najmi, S., Riemann, B. C., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Managing unwanted intrusive thoughts in obsessive compulsive disorder: Relative effectiveness of suppression, distraction, and acceptance. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47, 494-503.
  • Najmi, S., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Hidden complications of thought suppression. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 2, 210-223.
  • Wegner, D. M. (2009). How to think, say, or do precisely the worst thing for any occasion. Science, 325, 48-51.
  • Kozak, M., Sternglanz, W., Viswanathan, U., & Wegner, D. M. (2008). The role of thought suppression in building mental blocks. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 1123-1130.
  • Najmi, S., & Wegner, D. M. (2008). The gravity of unwanted thoughts: Asymmetric priming effects in thought suppression. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 114-124.
  • Najmi, S., & Wegner, D. M. (2008). Thought suppression and psychopathology. In A. Elliott (Ed.), Handbook of approach and avoidance motivation (pp. 447-459). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Mitchell, J. P., Heatherton, T. F., Kelley, W. M., Wyland, C. L., Wegner, D. M., & Macrae, C. N. (2007). Separating sustained from transient aspects of cognitive control during thought suppression. Psychological Science, 18, 292-297.
  • Najmi, S., Wegner, D. M., & Nock, M. K. (2007). Thought suppression and self-injurious thoughts and behaviors. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 1957-1965.
  • Sparrow, B., & Wegner, D. M. (2006). Unpriming: The deactivation of thoughts through expression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 1009-1019.
  • Wegner, D. M., Wenzlaff, R. M., & Kozak, M.. (2004). Dream rebound: The return of suppressed thoughts in dreams. Psychological Science, 15, 232-236.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Schneider, D. J. (2003). The white bear story. Psychological Inquiry, 14, 326-329.
  • Wegner, D. M. (2003). Thought suppression and mental control. In Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, (pp. 395-397). London: Macmillan.
  • Smart, L., & Wegner, D. M. (2000). The hidden costs of hidden stigma. In T. F. Heatherton, R. E. Kleck, M. R. Hebl, & J. G. Hull (Eds.), The social psychology of stigma (pp. 220-242). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Wenzlaff, R. M., & Wegner, D. M. (2000). Thought suppression. In S. T. Fiske (Ed.), Annual review of psychology (Vol. 51, pp. 59-91). Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews.
  • Smart, L., & Wegner, D. M. (1999). Covering up what can't be seen: Concealable stigmas and mental control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 474-486.
  • Wegner, D. M., Ansfield, M. E., & Pilloff, D. (1998). The putt and the pendulum: Ironic effects of the mental control of action. Psychological Science, 9, 196-199.
  • Wenzlaff, R. M., & Wegner, D. M. (1998). The role of mental processes in the failure of inhibition. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 231-233.
  • Hodges, S., & Wegner, D. M. (1997). Automatic and controlled empathy. In W. J. Ickes (Ed.), Empathic accuracy (pp. 311-339). New York: Guilford.
  • Wegner, D. M. (1997). When the antidote is the poison: Ironic mental control processes. Psychological Science, 8, 148-150.
  • Wegner, D. M. (1997). Why the mind wanders. In J. D. Cohen & J. W. Schooler (Eds.), Scientific approaches to consciousness (pp. 295-315). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Wegner, D. M., Broome, A., & Blumberg, S. J. (1997). Ironic effects of trying to relax under stress. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35, 11-21.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Smart, L. (1997). Deep cognitive activation: A new approach to the unconscious. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 984-995.
  • Ansfield, M., & Wegner, D. M. (1996). The feeling of doing. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. S. Bargh (Eds.), The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior (pp. 482-506). New York: Guilford.
  • Ansfield, M. E., Wegner, D. M., & Bowser, R. (1996). Ironic effects of sleep urgency. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 34, 523-531.
  • Erber, R., & Wegner, D. M. (1996). Ruminations on the rebound. In R. S. Wyer, Jr. (Ed.), Advances in social cognition (Vol. 9, pp. 73-79). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Erber, R., Wegner, D. M., & Thierrault, N. (1996). On being cool and collected: Mood regulation in anticipation of social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 757-766.
  • Wegner, D. M., Quillian, F., & Houston, C. E. (1996). Memories out of order: Thought suppression and the disturbance of sequence memory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 680-691.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Wenzlaff, R. M. (1996). Mental control. In E. T. Higgins & A. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic mechanisms and processes (pp. 466-492). New York: Guilford.
  • Gold, D. B., & Wegner, D. M. (1995). The origins of ruminative thought: Trauma, incompleteness, nondisclosure, and suppression. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, 1245-1261.
  • Houston, C., & Wegner, D. M. (1995). Mental control. In A. S. R. Manstead & M. Hewstone (Eds.), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Psychology (pp. 379-381). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Lane, J. D., & Wegner, D. M. (1995). The cognitive consequences of secrecy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 237-253.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Gold, D. B. (1995). Fanning old flames: Emotional and cognitive effects of suppressing thoughts of a past relationship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 782-792.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Lane, J. D. (1995). From secrecy to psychopathology. In J. W. Pennebaker (Ed.), Emotion, disclosure, and health (pp. 25-46). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Lane, J. D., & Wegner, D. M. (1994). Secret relationships: The back alley to love. In R. Erber & R. Gilmour (Eds.), Theoretical frameworks for personal relationships (pp. 67-85). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Wegner, D. M. (1994). Ironic processes of mental control. Psychological Review, 101, 34-52.
  • Wegner, D. M. (1994). Pink elephant tramples white bear: The evasion of suppression. Psycoloquy, 5(40).
  • Wegner, D. M., Eich, E., & Bjork, R. A. (1994). Thought suppression. In D. Druckman & R. A. Bjork (Eds.), Learning, remembering, believing: Enhancing human performance (pp. 277-293). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  • Wegner, D. M., Lane, J. D., & Dimitri, S. (1994). The allure of secret relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 287-300.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Zanakos, S. (1994). Chronic thought suppression. Journal of Personality, 62, 615-640.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Erber, R. E. (1993). Social foundations of mental control. In D. M. Wegner & J. W. Pennebaker (Eds.), Handbook of mental control (pp. 36-56). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Wegner, D. M., Erber, R., & Zanakos, S. (1993). Ironic processes in the mental control of mood and mood-related thought. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 1093-1104.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1993). Changing our minds: An introduction to mental control. In D. M. Wegner & J. W. Pennebaker (Eds.), Handbook of mental control (pp. 1-12). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Wegner, D. M. (1992). You can't always think what you want: Problems in the suppression of unwanted thoughts. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, (Vol. 25, pp. 193-225). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Erber, R. (1992). The hyperaccessibility of suppressed thoughts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 903-912.
  • Wegner, D. M., Schneider, D. J., Knutson, B., & McMahon, S. R. (1991). Polluting the stream of consciousness: The effect of thought suppression on the mind's environment. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 15, 141-152.
  • Wenzlaff, R. M., Wegner, D. M., & Klein, S. B. (1991). The role of thought suppression in the bonding of thought and mood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 500-508.
  • Wegner, D. M., Shortt, J. W., Blake, A. W., & Page, M. S. (1990). The suppression of exciting thoughts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 409-418.
  • Wegner, D. M. (1989). White bears and other unwanted thoughts: Suppression, obsession, and the psychology of mental control. New York: Viking. German translation by Ernst Kabel Verlag, 1992. 1994 Edition, New York: Guilford Press.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Schneider, D. J. (1989). Mental control: The war of the ghosts in the machine. In J. Uleman & J. Bargh (Eds.), Unintended thought (pp. 287-305). New York: Guilford Press. Reprinted in R. P. Honeck (Ed.) (1995). Introductory Readings for Cognitive Psychology, Third Edition. Guilford, CT: Dushkin.
  • Wegner, D. M. (1988). Stress and mental control. In S. Fisher & J. Reason (Eds.), Handbook of life stress, cognition, and health (pp. 685-699). Chichester: Wiley.
  • Wenzlaff, R. M., Wegner, D. M., & Roper, D. (1988). Depression and mental control: The resurgence of unwanted negative thoughts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 882-892.
  • Wegner, D. M., Schneider, D. J., Carter, S., & White, T. (1987). Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 5-13.