Study decodes unconscious thought representations even after successfully suppressing thoughts

A recent article appearing in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience highlights how researchers mapped what occurs in the brain during thought suppression using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

According to experts at the University of New South Wales, the use of functional brain imaging showed that even if an individual were to suppress a thought, it may still exist in another section of the brain, even without their awareness.

The study involved 15 participants, whose brain activity was examined during their completion of several visualizations and exercise pertaining to thought suppression.

“Using fMRI, we investigated the brain areas involved in controlling visual thoughts and tracked suppressed thought representations using multivoxel pattern analysis,” Roger Koenig-Robert, and his colleagues, stated in the journal article.

“Participants were asked to either visualize a vegetable/fruit or suppress any visual thoughts about those objects. Surprisingly, the content (object identity) of successfully suppressed thoughts was still decodable in visual areas with algorithms trained on imagery. This suggests that visual representations of suppressed thoughts are still present despite reports that they are not.”

In the study, researchers indicated that thought generation was associated with the left hemisphere of the brain, while thought suppression: vice versa.

From the findings: “These results suggest that the content of suppressed thoughts exists hidden from awareness, seemingly without an individual’s knowledge, providing a compelling reason why thought suppression is so ineffective.”

The co-authors concluded their findings with the following, “These data inform models of unconscious thought production and could be used to develop new treatment approaches to disorders involving maladaptive thoughts.”

Image courtesy of contrastwerkstatt -
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