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Research: To Purge Negative Thoughts, Just Write Them Down and Throw Them in the Trash

posted 11:37 PM EST, Tue November 27, 2012

Unwanted negative thoughts – researchers say you can eliminate their power by writing them down on paper and then throwing that paper in a trash can.

It sounds a bit silly – almost too simplistic – but according to Ohio State University researchers, it really works…

To eliminate bothersome negative thoughts, all you have to do is write them down on a piece of paper, and then crumple that paper up and throw it in the nearest trash can.

When people write down and then physically throw out unwanted thoughts these thoughts are much less likely to influence future judgments. Conversely, when people write out a thought and keep it safe – in a wallet for example – the thought takes on greater importance and has much greater influence over future judgments.

The Study

Researchers asked 283 study subjects to write down either positive or negative thoughts about the Mediterranean diet.

After writing thoughts on paper:

  1. Some subjects were instructed to throw the paper out in a trash can
  2. Some subjects were instructed to file the paper away at their desk
  3. Some subjects were instructed to fold the paper and place it safely in a pocket, wallet or purse

Subjects were then asked to explain how they felt about the diet and asked whether they intended to make use of the dietary plan.

The Results

Among students who had been instructed to write negative thoughts about the diet:

  • Those who had thrown their thoughts away were least critical of the diet, followed by those who filed their thoughts away at a desk. Those who had kept their negative thoughts closest - in a pocket, wallet or purse - were most critical of the diet and least likely to report wanting to try it out at home.

Among students who had been instructed to write positive thoughts about the diet:

  • Those who had thrown away their papers were least impressed by the diet, followed by those who had filed their papers away at their desks. Those who had kept their papers closest were most impressed by the diet and most likely to report wanting to try the diet at home.

The Significance

Writing a thought down and throwing it away reduces its power while keeping that thought safe and accessible amplifies its influence.


According to lead author Richard Petty, "However you tag your thoughts -- as trash or as worthy of protection -- seems to make a difference in how you use those thoughts…by physically throwing away or protecting your thoughts, you influence how you end up using those thoughts. Merely imagining engaging in these actions has no effect.”

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Story Highlights
  • Negative Thoughts: You can diminish the power and influence of negative thoughts by the simple act of writing them down on paper and then tossing that paper in a trash can
  • Positive Thoughts: Conversely, you can magnify the influence of positive thoughts by writing them down on paper and keeping that paper safe in your pocket or wallet
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