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Know how people curb negative thinking

by Pragati Singh

People try to avoid bad ideas by rejecting and replacing them regularly, according to the findings of a research published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology. However, avoiding an association proactively becomes more effective in averting the continual loop of negative ideas.

The findings were reported by Isaac Fradkin and Eran Eldar of Israel’s Hebrew University. Most individuals have had the experience of trying to avoid thinking unpleasant repeating thoughts. A trigger can frequently elicit undesirable thoughts or recollections.

People must not only reject bad connections from their minds, but they must also ensure that these unwanted memories do not return in an unending cycle and get stronger and stronger over time.

The new study looked at how 80 English-speaking people made new connections with popular terms. All participants were shown terms on a screen and were required to type a corresponding word. People in one group were warned ahead of time that if they repeated associations, they would not earn monetary incentives, so they set out to suppress thoughts of prior phrases they had entered.

The researchers employed computational tools to analyse how people avoided recurring connections based on reaction times and how good participants were at forming fresh associations. They discovered that most people adopt reactive control, rejecting undesired connections after they have already occurred to them. “This form of reactive control can be especially troublesome,” the authors write, “since, as our data demonstrate, ideas are self-reinforcing: thinking a thought strengthens its memory and increases the likelihood that it will recur.” In other words, every time we react negatively to an unfavourable connection, it has the potential to get stronger. However, we discovered that people may somewhat anticipate this process if they wish to guarantee that this thinking occurs as infrequently as possible.”

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“While people cannot avoid unwelcome ideas, they can guarantee that contemplating an unwanted thought does not enhance the likelihood of it occurring again,” Fradkin says. “Whereas the current study concentrated on neutral connections, future research should investigate if our findings generalise to negative and personally relevant undesirable ideas.”

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