White bears and red Volkswagen
In another experiment, the subjects are told to think of a red Volkswagen every time the white bear appears. As a result, the white bear does not disappear. But this time the fallback effect is much weaker.
We call this “diversion” to a very specific, always the same alternative idea in technical terms a “focused distraction”.
Ironic processes in action
Ironic processes occur not only in thoughts, but also in actions. If, for example, subjects are given a pendulum in their hands, and they tell them that they should not let it slip in any particular direction, then they do exactly that.
You can not suppress it. The effect is particularly strong if the subjects are to do another task, for example, counting backwards from 1.000 in three steps or holding a heavy brick in the other hand.
How not to quit smoking
Because many people never hold a pendulum in their hands, the phenomenon has now been checked and confirmed by more everyday things:
If smokers are allowed to suppress their thoughts on cigarettes for a week, they smoke a lot more than a comparison group, which should not suppress their thoughts. And anyone who is not supposed to think of chocolate for five minutes eats something much more than someone who just gave his thoughts free rein.
It is assumed that two processes are running at the same time: unconsciously we are driving a control program, which constantly monitors whether the prohibited thought occurs somewhere.
A second, conscious program should then suppress the thought as soon as the control program alerts the alarm.
The forbidden is constantly present
Unconsciously the prohibited thought is constantly present - because the unconscious program must know what to look for. It is almost always with a phantom image of the forbidden through the area.
And this unconscious presence sometimes gains the upper hand over our consciousness - especially when consciousness is occupied with other things.
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