Thought suppression (i.e. consciously trying to avoid certain thoughts from entering consciousness) has been argued to be an inadequate strategy in case of unwanted intrusions. That is, thought suppression seems to result in more rather than less intrusions. Although this experimental finding has been explained in terms of failing attempts to distract oneself from the target thought, the White Bear Suppression Inventory (WBSI; a scale that measures chronic thought suppression tendencies) does not address the means by which respondents try to suppress unwanted thoughts. To examine which strategies of mental control people use to suppress unwanted thoughts, obsessive-compulsive disorder patients (N=47) completed the WBSI, the Thought Control Questionnaire, and two measures of psychopathology. Results suggest that the crucial mechanism in thought suppression may not be distraction, but self-punishment.

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Behaviour Research and Therapy
Department of Psychology

Rassin, E.G.C, & Diepstraten, P. (2003). How to suppress obsessive thoughts. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 41(1), 97–103. doi:10.1016/S0005-7967(02)00043-8