Humans occasionally remember unwanted thoughts such as bad memories, images, and worries. During such an event, the bad thought may be retrieved causing one to think it continuously despite the unwillingness to do so. If the memory is terrible, it may produce negative thoughts and worries that return the affected person to the incident. The new study of Canadian scientists can potentially help you understand how to stop thinking about something you don’t want to think about.
The brain mechanism that stops unwanted thoughts
Professor Michael Anderson explains that the human ability to stop unwanted thoughts is crucial to one’s wellbeing.
The professor from the Medical from the Medical Research Council and Brain Science Unit (Cambridge University) says that if this ability is hampered, it can result in the draining symptoms distinctive of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Anderson compares the ability of self-control that stops us from accessing bad memories to preventing a physical action. The ability to control our actions is crucial to our existence. The scientists believe in the existence of a similar mechanism that can help us prevent the occurrence of unwanted thoughts.
How do we stop thinking about something we don’t wish to ponder about?
The prefrontal cortex in the brain that plays a major role in controlling our actions has been shown to have a similarly important input in regulating our thoughts.
The prefrontal context controls other parts of the brain such as the motor cortex and the hippocampus that regulate action and memories respectively.
The new research for the first time identified a brain process that allowed the prefrontal cortex to prevent our thoughts.
Professor Anderson deployed a task which they called ‘Think/No-Think’ procedure. The task required that participants learn to associate some words with a paired yet unconnected word. For example, moss/north and ordeal/roach. Then words were given at random to participants but they had to react in one of two ways. If given the green cue, participants were required to recall the associated word. Otherwise, if the cue was red, they were instructed to suppress the nearly learned association.
The researcher used a combination of magnetic resonance spectroscopy and functional magnetic resonance to monitor what was occurring in the brain as the participants tried to impede their thoughts.
An interesting picture showed up.
The neurotransmitter that is crucial for stopping annoying thoughts
The researchers showed that the mechanism of preventing wearisome thinking relies on a neurotransmitter called GABA.
The team also pointed out that the concentration of GABA within the hippocampus influenced the capacity of a person to retrieve processes and stop repetitive ideas, images and memories from recurring.
The exciting aspect of the research is that it is now leading into specifics. Before the research scientists could only talk about the part of the brain that was involved in the inhibitory process.
The details discovered during this experiment pointed out which neurotransmitters are essential in enabling humans to stop unwanted thoughts.
Prior studies focused on the prefrontal cortex, but this research has proved that we hadn’t understood the complete picture. Stopping unwanted thoughts occurs mainly through the cells in the hippocampus.
Among the participants, healthy young adults with lower hippocampal GABA had a lesser ability to suppress actions of the hippocampus by the frontal cortex. This group performed worse at stopping unwelcome thoughts.
The implication could be enormous. This discovery enables new approaches to treating debilitating mental disorders. “If you could improve GABA activity within the hippocampus, this may help people to stop unwanted and intrusive thoughts,” Anderson explained.