Try not to think about a white bear and suddenly there it is, haunting your thoughts. A new study indicates that attempting to suppress specific thoughts also has a delayed effect by bringing them out in dreams.
The findings elaborate on Sigmund Freud's century-old idea that wishes suppressed during the day find expression in dreams, says Harvard University psychologist Daniel M. Wegner. Now, it appears that consciously squelched thoughts often reappear in dreams, whether or not those thoughts incorporate wishes, he says.
Wegner and his coworkers studied the dreams of 295 college students. Before going to sleep at home volunteers spent 5 minutes writing down their thoughts. The participants had been given one of the following instructions: Don't think about a specific person whom you either regard as a friend or have a crush on, do think about that person, or simply write his or her initials.
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