Counterintentional Errors Essay

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Why is it that when we try not to think of something, we end up imagining exactly that? It seems counterintuitive – after all, people are usually better at doing things when they try harder, and random objects (take white bears, for example) don’t usually pop into people’s minds. Daniel M. Wegner, an American social psychologist, wondered this too. He conducted research that was pivotal in explaining how humans deal with thought suppression. Wegner’s paper, “How to Think, Say or Do Precisely the Worst Thing for Any Occasion” delves into the topic of irony, and the counterintentional errors that everyone makes [1].
A counterintentional error is when one deliberately tries not to make a certain mistake, but blunders precisely because they’re
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A more common case is the concept of tainted love. When a romance is discouraged, people actually feel stronger emotions, as “[p]eople who are asked not to think about a specific old flame show greater psychophysiological arousal than do others when later allowed to think about that relationship” [1]. Despite knowing that such emotions are unwanted, people are drawn towards the people they aren’t supposed to be attracted to. This reveals that counterintentional effects extend to emotions as well. Ironic errors apply not only to healthy emotions such as love, but also negative ones. Wegner says that “[d]epressed mood is especially recalcitrant, recurring after suppression” [1]. When people want to be rid of depression and try to suppress it, their condition counteractively grows worse. It’s made clear that ironic errors easily influence thoughts and emotions. Further, one’s actions can be affected by counterintentional errors. In an experiment, people who tried to prevent a pendulum from swinging a certain way found that “the pendulum [swung] in just the way they hope[d] to avoid” [1]. Focusing on not doing something resulted in that action happening in another instance of counterintentional error. As actions stem from thoughts, the root of this is an inability to suppress thoughts. As a general rule, people are not very good at thought suppression. Stress and other mental loads make mental control difficult, resulting in attention and memory errors. Continuing with the pendulum experiment, the paper says that “the pendulum is even more likely to swing in the unwanted direction when its holder is distracted by counting backward from 1000 by threes” [1]. This illustrates how an added mental load, that of distraction, makes one more likely to fail at thought

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