For many of us, policing undesirable ideas is not simple – however a brand new examine outlines an method that any of us may use to be able to restrict the variety of ideas that drop into our minds with out an invite.


The examine seems to be on the variations between reactive and proactive management. Reactive management is once we take an undesirable thought and try to reject or suppress it; proactive management is once we try to cease the undesirable thought from arriving within the first place.

Consider it alongside the traces of the basic ‘white bear drawback‘. If somebody tells you not to consider a polar bear, properly, you are going to find yourself eager about the polar bear. 

Reactive management means you will try to distract your self from eager about the polar bear every time it pops into your thoughts. It has been urged, nonetheless, that our brains can probably cease a thought from reaching our aware thoughts earlier than we have to distract ourselves from it, or proactive management.

How, and even when, our brains interact in proactive management is decidedly unclear and tough to analyze. The researchers of the brand new examine determined to simplify the method by specializing in phrase associations.

By means of a phrase affiliation job, the researchers discovered that most individuals depend on reactive management – however the information additionally revealed that it’s attainable to weaken connections to sure ideas if we put our minds to it.


“This sort of reactive management could be significantly problematic,” say the researchers. “As our findings counsel, ideas are self-reinforcing: pondering a thought will increase its reminiscence power and the likelihood that it’ll recur.”

“In different phrases, each time we’ve got to reactively reject an undesirable affiliation, it has the potential to change into even stronger. Critically, nonetheless, we additionally discovered that folks can partially preempt this course of in the event that they wish to make sure that this thought involves thoughts as little as attainable.”

The researchers requested 80 volunteers to give you new associations to 60 widespread phrases as they have been displayed one after the other on a display screen. (Solely 40 of the volunteers’ information have been in the end used within the examine.) Every of phrase was randomly offered 5 instances.

The individuals have been cut up into two teams: in a single, they have been instructed forward of time they would not be paid a financial reward in the event that they repeated any associations, whereas the opposite obtained no such instruction. 

Within the case of the primary group, an preliminary affiliation – ‘desk’ joined with ‘chair’, for instance – finally ends up turning into an undesirable thought. The participant wanted to enter a brand new affiliation with ‘desk’ the following time it appeared, even when ‘chair’ was their go-to thought.

Through the use of a computational mannequin to investigate response instances and responses, the researchers concluded that the volunteers who have been attempting to keep away from repetition have been principally pondering of beforehand used phrases after which rejecting them – so reactive management.

(Fradkin and Eldar, PLOS Computational Biology, 2022)

Above: The determine illustrates pure reactive (A), and pure proactive thought management (B), as properly three mechanisms of latent proactive management (C-E). Every row shows within the rightmost trial how one (`Chair`in panels A-C) or two (`Chair`and `Eat`in panels D-E) prior associations are prevented in favor of a brand new affiliation (‘Desk`). Line thickness corresponds to associative power. Dashed traces characterize attainable associations whereas stable traces characterize the precise enacted coverage. Reported associations are highlighted in blue. The distinctive traits of every resolution are highlighted in yellow, proven just for the rightmost trials, along with inexperienced circles denoting acceptance and reporting of an affiliation and purple circles denoting rejection of a generated affiliation, resulting in an try to consider another affiliation.

Nevertheless, digging deeper, the variations between the 2 teams indicated that the individuals within the group attempting to not repeat the identical phrases have been having some success at doing so – a kind of proactive management. These individuals did not get trapped in a loop of repeating the identical phrases time and again.


“Though individuals couldn’t keep away from undesirable ideas, they might make sure that pondering an undesirable thought doesn’t improve the likelihood of it coming to thoughts once more,” says psychologist Isaac Fradkin from the Hebrew College of Jerusalem in Israel.

Repeated phrases on this experiment could be interpreted as repeated ideas extra typically. Take painful reminiscences of a relationship break-up, for instance: It is attainable that we would have the ability to proactively practice ourselves to no less than cease these ideas from getting stronger and extra intractable each time they arrive again.

Sadly, the present examine does not give any kind of trace about tips on how to practice our brains to change from reactive to proactive thought management – the information solely means that it’s attainable, to a restricted extent, once we deliberately accomplish that.

Whereas the researchers caught to impartial phrase associations right here, reasonably than undesirable ideas which are distressing or linked to any form of psychological well being situation, that is the kind of course that follow-up analysis may go in – maybe providing concepts for numerous therapeutic approaches sooner or later.

“Whereas the present examine centered on impartial associations, future research ought to decide whether or not our findings generalize to unfavourable and personally related undesirable ideas,” says Fradkin.

The analysis has been printed in Computational Biology.


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