Monday


If you often find yourself struggling to conceal some unwanted thoughts only to discover that they become more resilient with every time you try to suppress them, then relax, psychology has a term that describes this very condition. It is called "ironic process theory" or the white bear problem and it simply means that the more we deliberately try to suppress certain thoughts, the more they are likely to emerge even stronger.

Some of the earliest mentions of the white bear problem date back to 1863 with the following quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky's book, "Winter Notes on Summer Impressions", describing the ironic processing in action:

"Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute."

However, it wasn't until 1987 that the condition was tested in a scientific setting. Inspired by Dostoevsky's observation, Daniel Wegner, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Harvard University, decided to study ironic process theory by developing a simple experiment: He asked the participants to continuously be aware of their flow of thoughts for five minutes, all the while trying not to think of a white bear. He then invited them to ring a bell every time they had even the faintest thought about the white bear. Surprisingly, and despite the participants willful attempts to avoid the thought, they found themselves ringing the bell more than once per minute, on average.

Now you might be asking yourself: but where is the psychological game that everyone is playing without knowing?

Actually, that long introduction was necessary to understand the roots of the game. Essentially, The Game that everyone is supposedly playing is thought to be inspired by an ironic processing game that was played by Leo Tolstoy in 1840. One of the greatest writers of all time played that game with his brother, where he would stand in a corner and try not  to think about the white bear. 

Back to the actual topic, The Game is a mental  game that was modeled after the ironic processing effect, where participants are asked to avoid thinking about The Game itself. The entire world population is supposed to be participating in The Game all the time, although there exists a variation where the game's playground is narrowed down to everyone who knows about The Game. Every time you think about The Game, you lose and you must announce your loss.

The Game has 3 simple rules:
  1. The entire world is playing The Game (or only people who know about it, depending on the variation).
  2. Whenever you think about The Game, you lose.
  3. Losses must be announced either verbally or using social media.
I know, I know, right now you are probably thinking: but I didn't choose to participate in The Game! 

Then let me tell you this: you have just lost The Game :)

You can blame me later for spreading The Game virus, but right now, you can think of The Game as a large scale psychological experiment with the entire Earth as its playground. Some fans of The Game have even created a website dedicated to inform the masses about The Game and have developed a set of strategies anyone who plays The Game can use to infect more people, thus keeping The Game running forever by increasing the number of losses. The Game has become a "widespread" internet phenomenon and has been featured in newspapers such as Metro and The Canadian Press, as well as in webcomics such as the famous Xkcd. Some people even took it to the streets to express their losses as did this girl at San Diego Comic-Con International in July 2008:


So now that you have been officially infected, it is time for you to start spreading the word!
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