Background: The belief that we can control our thoughts is not inevitably adaptive, particularly when it fuels mental control activities that have ironic unintended consequences. The conviction that the mind can and should be controlled can prompt people to suppress unwanted thoughts, and so can set the stage for the intrusive return of those very thoughts. An important question is whether or not these beliefs about the control of thoughts can be reduced experimentally. One possibility is that behavioral experiments aimed at revealing the ironic return of suppressed thoughts might create a lesson that could reduce unrealistic beliefs about the control of thoughts. Aims: The present research assessed the influence of the thought suppression demonstration on beliefs about the control of thoughts in a non-clinical sample, and among individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Method: In Study 1, we assessed the effect of the thought suppression demonstration on beliefs about the control of thoughts among low and high obsessive individuals in the non-clinical population (N = 62). In Study 2, we conducted a similar study with individuals with OCD (N = 29). Results: Results suggest that high obsessive individuals in the non-clinical population are able to learn the futility of suppression through the thought suppression demonstration and to alter their faulty beliefs about the control of thoughts; however, for individuals with OCD, the demonstration may be insufficient for altering underlying beliefs. Conclusions: For individuals with OCD, the connection between suppressing a neutral thought in the suppression demonstration and suppressing a personally relevant obsession may need to be stated explicitly in order to affect their obsessive beliefs.
(Online publication October 26 2009)
c1 Reprint requests to Sadia Najmi, Joint Doctoral Program at University of California, San Diego/San Diego State University, Center for Understanding and Treating Anxiety, 6386 Alvarado Ct., Suite 301, San Diego, CA 92120, USA. E-mail: email@example.com