Throwing Away Thoughts A Cure For Negative Nancies
November 26, 2012

Throwing Away Thoughts A Cure For Negative Nancies

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Tired of being cynical? How about you try writing those thoughts down and trashing them, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that when people wrote down their thought on a piece of paper and threw the paper away, it helped them to mentally discard the thoughts as well. They also found that people were more likely to use their thoughts when making judgements if they first wrote them down on a piece of paper and tucked the paper away in a pocket.

Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University, said this is the first study to look into how throwing away thoughts helps patients.

“At some level, it can sound silly. But we found that it really works -- by physically throwing away or protecting your thoughts, you influence how you end up using those thoughts. Merely imagining engaging in these actions has no effect," Petty said in a statement.

He said that the findings suggest that people can treat their thoughts as a material, concrete object.

“We talk about our thoughts as if we can visualize them. We hold our thoughts. We take stances on issues, we lean this way or that way. This all makes our thoughts more real to us," he said.

During the study, researchers used 83 Spanish high school students. The students believed the study was regarding body image.

Each of the participants were told to write down either positive or negative thoughts about his or her body during a three-minute period. All of the participants were asked to look back at the thoughts they wrote.

Researchers told half of the students to contemplate their thoughts and then throw them in a trash. The other half were told to contemplate their thoughts and check for any grammar or spelling mistakes.

The students then rated their attitudes about their own bodies on three 9-point scales, including bad-good, unattractive-attractive, and like-dislike.

The researchers found that keeping their thoughts and checking them for mistakes affected the way participants reported a positive or negative thought about their bodies. They also saw that those who threw away their thoughts had more positive attitudes towards their bodies than those who kept them.

During a second study, the team used 284 students in a similar experiment, however this time they were asked to write negative or positive thoughts about the Mediterranean diet.

Some threw the thoughts away, some left them on their desk, and other students were told to put the paper in their pocket, wallet or purse. All of the participants were then asked to rate their attitudes towards the diet and intentions to use the diet for themselves.

The team determined that the participants who wrote positive thoughts about the Mediterranean diet and put those thoughts in their pocket ranked the diet more favorably than those who wrote positive thoughts and kept them in their desk.

“This suggests you can magnify your thoughts, and make them more important to you, by keeping them with you in your wallet or purse,” Petty said.

He said the team plans to see if this technique could work to help people who have recurrent negative thoughts that are intrusive and bothersome.

“It is often difficult to get rid of these thoughts. We want to find out if there is a way to keep those thoughts from coming back, at least for longer periods of time," Petty said.

The research was published in the journal Psychological Science.