Want to get rid of negative thoughts? Just throw them away
Researchers found that when people wrote down their thoughts on a piece of paper and then threw the paper away, they mentally discarded the thoughts as well.
On the other hand, people were more likely to use their thoughts when making judgments if they first wrote them down on a piece of paper and tucked the paper in a pocket to protect it.
"However you tag your thoughts -- as trash or as worthy of protection -- seems to make a difference in how you use those thoughts," said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
Some types of psychological therapy use variations of this concept by trying to get patients to discard their negative thoughts. But Petty said this is the first study he is aware of that has validated that approach.
"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," he stated.
The findings suggest that people can treat their thoughts as material, concrete objects, Petty said.
"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 explained
Petty conducted the research with Pablo Brinol, Margarita Gasco and Javier Horcajo, all of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain.
The results are published online in the journal Psychological Science and will appear in a future print edition.