Ironic processes and success: don't think about the purple cow!

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Text comes from: Warum uns das Denken nicht in den Kopf will: Noch mehr nützliche Erkenntnisse der Alltagspsychologie (2013) from Dr. Volker Kitz, Prof. Dr. Manuel Tusch, published by Heyne Verlag, Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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Don't think of a purple cow! What are you currently thinking about? Does it make "muh" and chocolate? Then you could have fallen for a so-called “ironic process”: If we make a decision not to think about something, this very thought can really haunt us.

Purple Cow

Here writes for you:


Dr. Volker Kitz fawnDr. Volker Kitz is Spiegel-Best-selling author, psychologist and ex-lobbyist.


Here writes for you:


Prof. Dr. Manuel TuschDr. Manuel Tusch Professor at the Münster University of Applied Sciences and director of the IfAP.


From the author:




The desire for control

Purple cows are still the least problem. But how often do we want to control our lives by not doing something, like eating the chocolate bar?

Or think of something, for example, just before falling asleep to the insolent sayings of the colleague of this morning? Whoever wants to control his life in this way should at least know something more about the phenomenon of the ironic process.

The White Bear Experiment

In the classic experiment, subjects are asked not to think of a white bear. Then they should let their so-called "Stream of Consciousness" run free for five minutes:

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Thinking out loud all the time and chattering everything that is in your mind right now Sense is coming. So what some of our esteemed fellow human beings do all day anyway. Every time they say or think "white bear", they should ring a bell on the table in front of them.

You may, so you think!

Then you turn the instructions: Now the subjects are thinking quite specifically about a white bear. And once again make their stream of consciousness and again the bell ring when the white bear emerges.

Different groups get these two instructions in different order: Group 1 should first suppress the thought of the bear, then consciously think of the white bear. Group 2 should first deliberately think of the white bear and then banish the white bear from their thoughts.

Thoughts can not be suppressed

No one succeeds in suppressing his thoughts: On average, at least once a minute, the subjects think of the forbidden bear, while they should not. This is quite often for something you do not want to do!

But what is particularly interesting is: Who is in group 1, so to suppress the white bear first, who thinks afterwards much more often to the bear than someone who has from the outset the task as often as possible to think of the animal - ie in group 2 is.

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Relapse in the brain

Apparently, the brain has a backlog when it has been trying for a while to suppress a thought:

It suffers a regular relapse, in which it thinks much more often the prohibited thoughts than before. If we oppress something, then this effort will have an effect on its opposite.

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  1. Sylvia7452

    Mind Control & Ironic Processes - 1/3: Don't think about the purple cow! - (via @SimoneJanson)

  2. Sylvia7452

    RT @Berufebilder: Mind Control & Ironic Processes - 1/3: Don't think about the purple cow! -

  3. Competencepartner

    Mind Control & Ironic Processes - 1/3: Don't think about the purple cow !: Don't think… #Profession #Education

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