World Mental Healthcare Association

Think You’re Totally In Control Of Your Thoughts? Scientist Says ‘No’

News: New San Francisco State University study found that we have less control over our thoughts than previously assumed.

Whenever we think about certain things, other thoughts including activities we have learned like playing music can enter our subconscious and distract us to think about something else, even if we don’t want to. According to SF State Associate Professor of Psychology Ezequiel Morsella, these dispositions are “sets”.

Morsella and the other researchers investigated how thoughts that lead to actions enter our consciousness and how sets influence what we end up thinking about. The team conducted two experiments.

In the first experiment, 35 SF state students were instructed not to count an array of objects presented to them. In 90 per cent of the trials, students counted the objects involuntarily. In the second experiment, students were presented with differently coloured geometric shapes and given the option of either naming the colours (one set) or counting the shapes (a different set). In around 40 per cent of trials, students thought about both sets.

“The data support the view that, when one is performing a desired action, conscious thoughts about alternative plans still occupy the mind, often insuppressibly,” said Morsella.

The findings highlight that it is easy to activate sets in people and influence what occupies the brain’s “prime real estate.”. The study results support Morsella’s passive frame theory, that most thoughts enter our brains as a result of subliminal processes we don’t totally control.

To Know More You May Refer To

Bhangal, S., Merrick, C., Cho, H., & Morsella, E. (2018). Involuntary entry into consciousness from the activation of sets: Object counting and color naming. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01017

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