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When the Antidote is Poison

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.c" :-- ~ -"', =-0.-"-0."- __0 ~-"--;;;'PSYCHOLO(j!Co\L SC1E:-'-CESpecial SectionWHEN THE ANTillOTE IS THE POISON:Ironic Mental Control ProcessesDaniel M. WegnerUni\Oersiry of Virginia,Abstract-The theory lifirll/ric prfICI!SSI!.l° "fIIlI!IIral cmrrrf,1 1t1,ld,\" rhut improvemem may unwittingly create the very psychological problemboth ,he most Ilnd rhe leust de.lired I!ffecrs ofatre!npts ro control olle'.\" he or she is working so hard to overcome,own mental states (ICCnle frflm """0 processe,\": an intentional operatingprocess (u c:on.l°(.iou.l'. effiJrrjul .\°earclt jcJr Inl!IItaL colltellrs rhut ,..ilLproduce u de.l'ired .\.ate IJjolnind) and (In ironic monitoring process Ian IRONIC PROCESS THEORYun(.'onscious. autotnari(.. .\'eurr.'h jor tnentaL (.'onrenrs rhut si,l,'naL cl jaiL-lIre ro produce rhe de.lired .\'tate vf Inindl, ,-\Irhough rhe Inonitorin,~ The theory of ironic processes ~uggestS that this cruel perversionprocess usualLv functions just to actn'ure the uperatin~ process. dur- of our desires can happen because of the :lfChitecture of the memaling .\.re.l.s. distra(..ion. time urgem-y. or other mentuL load. rhe Inoni- -"lystem by which we achieve whatever mental control we do managetor.s effects on mind can supersede those ofrhe operator. producing to summon. Mental control is accomplished. in this view. by thethe very state of mind thut is least desirecL An indi\'idual 's attempts ro interaction of tWO processes-an intentionaL operating process that isgain mental control may thus precipitate the Ilnl..oanred mental ortates conscious. effonful. and interruptible and an ironic monirorino~ pro-rhev ~vere intended to remedy, (..ess that is unconscious. less etfortful. and un interruptible. The op-, ~r.lting proces., promotes the imended men[:1j .:omrol by se:IfChing formental content, consistent with the intended :>tate of mind-. -"10. tor~Iv third m:l.~im wns to endeavor alw3Ys to conquer myself r:lther rh3n the ~xample. this proce-"ls might look tor distrdctors when the ~rson iso~er of the world. and in ~ener:ll. accustom my,;clf to thc persu:l...ion thOlI. trying to suppress a thought. or for signs of fatigue when the personexcept our own thoughts. there is nolhing O1bsolulely in our power, is trying to go to sleep. The monitoring process. in turn. s~hes for.D .' / I. 1 P ~- In) mental content., silZnOllin" a failure to create the intended state of mind.-Rene Desc:lnes I Is,.ourse un o. "110u. -.0 -= 0 o.In the case of thought :>uppression. for Instance. the monuor looks tor-, 0 , the to-be-suppressed thought. In the case of uying to :>leep. the moni-Descarte:> probably should have ~topped Jt two max~m~. This. tor looks for :>i\!ns of waketuln.::>s.third one has the -"lound of truth. but it :>ee~-"I :0 g~t peopl~ In a lot ot The two pr~esses function together ;1.'i a f~edback unit to producetrouble. At :>ome level. of course. hi:> conVIction that w: can ~ontrol mental control. The person who i~ trying to stop thinking about ciga-our thoughtS. and 30 ourselves. -"I~rve-"l ~ver:'on~ w.:11 trom tI~e to rette3 in the hopt:-"I of quitting -"lmoking. for example. likely e,~~nd:>time. It seems perfectly sensible. for instance. that a _person tryln~ to considerable conscious effort in the tonn of an o~rating process thatabstain from alcohol might begin by trying not to t~mk about d~nk- is lookinlZ for distrdctors. Thi:> :>trategy might well succeed. anding. And too. it stands to reason that a ~rson \~ho teels overanxIous launch th; person into thought~ that are smoke-free. ~[eanwhil.:. how-might try mentally to rela.~. or that J depre.o;sed pe~on m~ght hop.: to ever. the monitoring proce~s :>I::lfChes unconsciously tor thoughts ofremedy the problem by avoiding sad thoughts. A\."Cordmg to Des- ci2arettes bv :>canninlZ memories and environmental cues. When theC:1nes. after :lll. our thoughtS are absol~tely in our po~er. But th~ m~nitor en~ounters ~~ch thoughts. it bring.~ them into. consciou.'ine$s 1~imple dr:ci-"lion ro try to control our mInd, C:ln "om~"m~~. I'::ld .u~ and re-"ltart-"l th~ oper.lting proc~~~-Jnd thl: pe~on again me~ to think !wildly out or .:omrol-turning what we thought ..~a.-. an antldot~ tor of anvthing other than a :>moke. Ovl:r time. the cyclic interplay of theour mental malai:>e into the very poi-"lon that \.Tc:-.lte-"l it ,proc~:>.::> ~oves. in tits and ,t:lnS. to keep .:igarette thoughtS out ofR~search conducted on irIJni(.' pro(.°I!Sst'S of IIlt'IItul (.'ollrrol (\~ eg- °d-Th. mm.nero 1994) indicates how the use of memal control.::m backfire. IS The ironv of the monitor. however. is that in providing the need~dwork st:1ned with the observation that it is difficult not to think about search for the failure of mental control. it incre=~ the :lCcessibility ofeven a white bear when thi~ is one.:> ~xplicit de:;ire t W~gner. 1989). ~xactlv the mo-"lt undesirabl~ thoughts. In the case of the smoke-ender.Trying not to think about it. in som.: funny way. i:; jus~ what m:lk.:s ci!!are'nes and ,mok~ and tobacco and :l.'ihtrays all becom.: highlighted3uch thoughtS happen. It turns out that the more gen~r:1lldea may ~I~o b; the monitoring process. A3 long ;IS th~ o~r.lting proce:;-"1 is he:1lthybe tnle-that any attempt at mental control .:ontJin:> the seed:> ot ItS ~d unimpaired. thi~ i:> only a small problem. Th.: operating proces~ isown undoing. Under cert:lin condition3. in other ..vords. m~nt~l c~ntrol tar more ~tfective than the monitor given the Iu.~ury or the processmogmay not only fail to achieve desired states ?f ~ind. b~t C".m lromC:llIy c:lpacity it consume:>. and :>0 it usually overwhelms the slight se,n3I-cre:lte precisely the most


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