This ingenious experiment was one of several landmark studies investigating Festinger’s now famous theory of Cognitive Dissonance. The original study is intricate and somewhat complex, but a brief, simplified summary is offered here. This post summarizes the study and explains how cognitive dissonance might be relevant in the spiritual and religious realm.
The article “Paradoxical Effects of Thought Suppression” by Daniel Wegner & colleagues presents a study that is not only fascinating, but also has very real implications for day-to-day life. What this study shows is that when someone tries very hard NOT to think about or focus on something, they actually begin to focus MORE on it. And that over time, it will become harder and harder for them not to think about it or focus on it; that efforts to suppress thoughts are followed by a rebound, an increase. In other words, they might have been better off never trying to suppress the thoughts to begin with!