In line with the ironic processing theory of Wegner (Psychol. Rev. 101 (1994) 34), it is often argued that the suppression of anxiety-related thoughts results in a paradoxical increase of anxiety and thought intrusions, both after and during the thought suppression. In a sample of undergraduate students (14 men, 18 women), we investigated the effects of suppressing anxious thoughts about an imminent painful electrocutaneous stimulus. During thought suppression, self-reported anxiety and frequency of anxious thoughts did not increase, and duration of anxious thoughts decreased. After thought suppression, participants experienced an increase in self-reported anxiety and the frequency of anxious thoughts. There was no effect upon thought duration. The results support the idea that suppression of anxiety-related thoughts may result in a paradoxical increase in anxiety, and may cause and/or maintain anxiety problems.

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Behaviour Research and Therapy
Department of Psychology

Koster, E. H. W., Rassin, E., Crombez, G., & Näring, G. (2003). The paradoxical effects of suppressing anxious thoughts during imminent threat. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 41(9), 1113–1120. doi:10.1016/S0005-7967(03)00144-X