Ironic Processes of Mental Control

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Abstract

A theory of ironic processes of mental control is proposed to account for the intentional and counterintentional effects that result from efforts at self-control of mental states. The theory holds that an attempt to control the mind introduces 2 processes: (a) an operating process that promotes the intended change by searching for mental contents consistent with the intended state and (b) a monitoring process that tests whether the operating process is needed by searching for mental contents inconsistent with the intended state. The operating process requires greater cognitive capacity and normally has more pronounced cognitive effects than the monitoring process, and the 2 working together thus promote whatever degree of mental control is enjoyed. Under conditions that reduce capacity, however, the monitoring process may supersede the operating process and thus enhance the person's sensitivity to mental contents that are the ironic opposite of those that are intended.

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