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White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression, Obsession, and the Psychology of Mental Control [Paperback]

Daniel M. Wegner
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1, 1994 0898622239 978-0898622232 Reprint
In a series of groundbreaking experiments, Daniel M. Wegner told subjects not to think about white bears. Of course, they found it impossible to avoid thinking of the bears--just as it often seems impossible to stop thinking about forbidden foods, a painful memory, or everyday fears and worries. Synthesizing a wealth of scientific knowledge in an accessible, engaging style, this book reveals that the more we attempt to push away or avoid unwanted thoughts, the deeper they take hold. Wegner offers compelling insights into how unpleasant or obsessive thoughts get out of control--and what we can do to break free of them. Written for general readers, the book has been widely used in undergraduate- and graduate-level courses.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Wegner instructed participants in a psychology experiment not to think about a white bear, their minds, naturally, filled up with white, furry images. Starting from that simple exercise, this rewarding and informal essay takes a fresh, unconventional look at the ways we deal with unwanted thoughts and relates those mental processes to mood swings, addictions, depression and day-to-day survival. A psychology professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Tex., Wegner finds that the common ploy of using self-distraction to banish undesired thoughts or impulses often offers a "quick fix" that only masks an underlying problem. His investigation helps explain why people who return home from detoxification centers or "fat farms" often find their self-control efforts sadly short-lived. Propelled by mental exercises and diagrams, the reader is invited to explore the effects of innuendo, willful ignorance, prejudicial belief and obsessions. First serial to Psychology Today.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Wegner (psychology, Trinity Univ. in Texas) offers an in-depth study of the mind's ability to suppress thoughts and of its inability to control those suppressed thoughts. (Eighteen pages of source notes support his extensive research.) Thus, in one of the studies he conducted, Wegner asked subjects not to think of a white bear--and of course they could not rid their minds of that thought. The author explores how suppression can lead to obsession, how mood and mind control can be useful, and what affinity exists between mind and body. Psychology students, professionals, and those willing to go beyond typical pop psychology overviews will find this book of interest.
- Marguerite Mroz, Baltimore Cty. P.L.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 207 pages
  • Publisher: The Guilford Press; Reprint edition (May 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0898622239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0898622232
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
An excellent read for serious students of psychology AND for everybody else.
The upshot of this book is that (according to Wegner's research, which is described in sufficient detail for the reader to make his or her own judgments) the best way to get rid of an obsession is to stop trying to. Wegner's research has found that trying hard to squelch a thought is likely to make it stick harder.
Wegner spends some time discussing how this specifically might tie in to depression, in which a person gets stuck in a rut of negative mood and thought and then is preoccupied with wishing that negative mood weren't there.
You can also come up with areas in your own life in which you've wanted to get rid of some thought and couldn't. Wegner explains what to do when that happens.
"Mental control" in the title refers to how we control our own thoughts -- using our thoughts. It's a bit of a puzzle and Wegner makes some good points about it.
This book will give you a new perspective on this issue. It's a slim little book, not hard to read, but it is entirely serious and substantive. No empty-headed pop psych here. This is the real thing.
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Simply put, this book changed my life... I was going through a long period (over a year in duration) where I had trouble getting rid of "unwanted thoughts"; basically thoughts that I knew would reduce the level of pleasure I was getting out of any given activity. For example, if I dwelt on X while I was undergoing some otherwise-pleasurable activity - where X is an unwanted thought - my level of enjoyment i.e. my appreciation of that activity would decrease. While I was going through these cycles of unwanted thoughts, the quality of my life was drastically reduced. I'm sure "unwanted thoughts" differ for each person, both in their individual characteristics and implications. According to this book, one should not consciously try to suppress unwanted thoughts, as thereby the thoughts will systematically persist in reemerging. Instead, just "let it be" as it were, and inevitably the unwanted thoughts will start to dissipate. Don't be dissuaded by the above editorial review, as though it is true this is not "light reading" per se, it is very well written and in an easy-to-read format with the layman in mind; and it does not contain a lot of jargon. It reads just like a novel and is quite humorous in parts. I'm not a student of psychology but had no problem with my reading and comprehnsion of this book and gleaned a lot of new information out of it, such as how meta-cognition or "thinking about thinking" works. I hate to say anything negative about this book since I found it a self-help book in the truest sense, but its only feature I didn't fully appreciate was the few charts and graphs it contained, even though they were relevant to the information at hand and supplemented the statistics well. Read more ›
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Since graduating high school and moving on to college, I've had significant difficulties concentrating due mostly to what could be described as unwanted thoughts - at least unwanted and the time. This book is the first one I've read that offered scientific evidence supporting the authors points. It didn't solve all my problems, but it has been a great place to start finding solutions.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forget the White Bear December 14, 2007
Not your typical psychobabble. This is a book sprinkled with research, experience, and humor. And definitely not a book on "mind control" but "mental control." Do you have complete control over how you think? Can you suppress unwanted thoughts? Maybe... Maybe not. (Don't forget the white bear...)

Wegner takes you on a journey through many types of "minds." Especially interesting were his thoughts on depression and obsessing thoughts - those tapes that keep running through your head over and over and over again.

A short book, long on insight, this book has the potential to change your life. In the least, it will help you understand the process of mental thinking and what really controls it.

Oh, and stop thinking about that white bear...
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