Transformation of Thought Suppression Functions Via Same and Opposite Relations


The aim of this study was to investigate transformation of thought suppression functions via ‘same’ and ‘opposite’ relations. In Experiment 1 participants were given training and testing with the aim of generating same and opposite relational responding in two five-member relational networks. They then had to suppress a target word from one of the two networks, while words appeared individually onscreen including the target, and words either in the same (target) or a different (nontarget) network. They could remove any word by pressing the spacebar. Findings showed more frequent and faster removal of the target than other words and of words in the target network than other words. Experiment 2, the aim of which was to include predominantly ‘opposite’ relations in the relational networks, produced a similar but weaker pattern. Experiment 3 replicated the pattern seen in Experiment 2, while showing that the relations designated as opposite produced a more conventional transformation of functions in a context other than thought suppression.

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  1. 1.

    Wegner (1989) drew a distinction between subtypes of thought control including suppression (“I will not think of X”) and distraction (“I will think of Y”), and suggested that thought suppression more broadly conceptualized probably involves moving from the first to the second. Wegner’s ECH focuses more on the second than the first and so does the current study. This can be justified as this is a particularly common strategy of thought suppression conceptualised more broadly (Rachman and de Silva 1978). In addition, the current study is an extension of previous work that was interested primarily in how derived relations impact on thought suppression than on modelling the phenomenon itself completely.

  2. 2.

    Since, in RFT, ‘transformation of function’ is a generic term that includes ‘transfer of function’, in the remainder of this article the former term will be preferred, except where the latter is more suitable for purposes of communication.

  3. 3.

    One question that might be raised in relation to the pattern of responding shown on the basis of this particular protocol, and which might indeed be raised in regard to the patterns of responding shown on the basis of the nonarbitrary relational training procedures used across all three experiments, concerns the extent to which it might be more accurate to characterise at least some of the responding at issue as comparative than opposite relational responding. In response, even though the training / testing stimuli used in these procedures did indeed vary in terms of size and quantity, and participants were sometimes (i.e., in the presence of the ‘opposite’ cue), required to choose comparisons that were either bigger / smaller or more / less than the sample, the patterns of responding they showed were always more consistent with opposite than comparison relations at a functional level because on such trials they were always required to choose from amongst several comparisons that were all either more or bigger than the sample or less or smaller than the sample and the correct response always involved choosing the comparison farthest away from the sample in size. The latter is required in a pattern of opposition relational responding but not in a pattern of comparison relational responding and thus any person responding consistently correctly can be considered as showing opposition rather than comparison relations.


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Correspondence to Louise McHugh.

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Stewart, I., Hooper, N., Walsh, P. et al. Transformation of Thought Suppression Functions Via Same and Opposite Relations. Psychol Rec 65, 375–399 (2015).

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  • Relational frame theory
  • Same and opposite relations
  • Transformation of functions
  • Thought suppression
  • Derived relational responding