The influence of thought suppression and cognitive load on intrusions and memory processes following an analogue stressor

Behav Ther. 2009 Dec;40(4):368-79. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2008.10.004. Epub 2008 Nov 3.


Ironic Process Theory and the role of thought suppression have been used in part to explain the phenomenon of intrusive memories in various disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder. How thought suppression interacts with other cognitive processes believed to be instrumental in the development of traumatic intrusive memory is unclear. In an analogue study, thought suppression and cognitive processing was manipulated in 4 experimental groups after participants (n=80) viewed a trauma film. The impact of suppression was examined in relation to self-reported intrusive experiences as well as via more objective methods (word stem and dot probe tasks) to assess potential preferential encoding of negative material. Cognitive load appeared to undermine thought suppression ability, with these participants experiencing more intrusions over the week relative to participants in all other conditions. This group also showed greater priming to negative film-related words, and both suppression groups demonstrated enhanced memory for film-related content on recognition testing. Thought suppression mediated the relationship between negative interpretations of initial intrusions and later intrusions experienced over the week. The findings are discussed in the context of ironic process theory and cognitive models of posttraumatic stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Video Recording