- Ironic Process Theory
Ironic processing is the psychological process whereby an individual’s deliberate attempts to the purpose of avoiding certain thoughts (
thought suppression) render those thoughts more accessible. The classic example is, "Don't think of a white bear."
Cognitive overload inhibits successful activation of operating processes within the mind whose function is the effortful, conscious attempt at distraction by finding something else to think about. The monitoring process, serving to alert the individual of an unwanted thought about to become salient and intrude on his or her consciousness, continues to find instances of the unwanted thought creating a state of hyperaccessibility unchecked by controlled cognitive processes. [Aronson, W. A. (2007). "Social Psychology" 6th ed. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.]
“According to Wegner & Pennebaker (1993, p. 1), "Mental control occurs when people suppress a thought, concentrate on a sensation, inhibit an emotion, maintain a mood, stir up a desire, squelch a craving, or otherwise exert influence on their own mental states." Thus, intentional memory processes and their associated mnemonic strategies can be viewed as one form of mental control (Kihlstrom & Barnhardt, 1993). Mental control, in the form of mnemonic strategies, is exercised when we attempt to exert influence over our faculties of memory.” [Wegner, D. M. (1994). "Ironic Processes of Mental Control." "Psychological Review", 101, 34–52.]
Ironic Process Theory
Ironic Process Theory (Wegner, 1992, 1994) has two opposing mechanisms (
Dual Process Mode of Social Cognition): The first unconsciously and automatically monitors for occurrences (monitoring processes) of the unwanted thought, calling upon the second (operating processes) should the thought begin to intrude. This theory explains the effects of increased cognitive load by emphasizing that where there is cognitive effort, the monitoring process may supplant the conscious process, also suggesting that in order for thought suppression to be effective, a balance between the two processes with the cognitive demand not being too great as to let the monitoring process supersede it must exist.
As recent research suggests (e.g. Geraerts et al., in press) [Geraerts, E., Merckelbach, H., Jelicic, M., & Smeets, E. (2006). "Long term consequences of suppression of intrusive anxious thoughts and repressive coping." "Behaviour Research and Therapy" 44, 1451-1460] there may be an important role of individual differences that may be able to account for this. Although in certain domains, such as memorization, it appears that ironic effects of attempting to remember vary with the level of mental control over mnemonic processing and may be due simply to implementation of ineffective mental strategies. [Griffith, J. D., Hart, C. L., & Randell, J. A. (2007). "Ironic Effects of Attempting to Remember." "North American Journal of Psychology", 1-2.]
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