文章主講 Karen, Chris
Try not to think about your feet. Now observe yourself over the next few minutes as you are unable to stop thinking about them. This phenomenon, known as the “white bear problem,” was first posited back in 1863 by Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky. In his essay, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, he challenged readers, “Try to pose yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”
Over a century and a half later, Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner came across Dostoevsky’s passage, and was inspired to investigate the matter further. Wegner designed an experiment involving different groups of subjects who were asked to think of or not to think of a white bear. When the first group of people were asked not to think of a white bear, they ended up thinking of it more than once per minute on average. Next, the same group was asked to do the same exercise, but this time to think of white bears from the very beginning. It turned out that the participants in the first group thought of the bear far more often than the other groups who had been instructed to think of white bears on purpose. Wegner coined the term “ironic rebound” to describe the process whereby deliberate attempts to suppress thoughts make them more likely to come to the surface.
Over the years, behavioral psychologists have come up with a variety of methods to suppress the white bears, especially ones that may affect our lives negatively. These include mindfulness and meditation, focusing on something else of interest to you, and assigning another time to think about the topic.