Friday, February 15, 2013

Facebook and Ironic Processing

Quick, don't think about a pink elephant!

Sure you just thought about a pink elephant, but why? The phenomenon is known as ironic processing and it happens when the act of trying to suppress a thought makes it stand out even more in your mind. If you've been around the internet for any time at all you've probably heard of The Game (which you just lost). The Game is an exercise in ironic processing where the goal is to not think about The Game - in other words, you lose The Game by thinking about The Game (of course if you win The Game, and realize you are winning, you immediately lose).

A recent, seemingly related, application of ironic processing has surfaced on Facebook. A post tells you to "Name a movie that doesn't have an S in it" or "Name a band that doesn't have a B in it". It's apparently a hard thing to do, but I didn't have any trouble at all. Here's what I came up with in just a few seconds:

Movies without an S:
The Godfather
Citizen Kane
The Italian Job
The Wizard of Oz
The Dark Knight
Fight Club
Finding Nemo

Bands without a B:
Led Zeppelin
Faith No More

Of course, that doesn't mean I didn't think of movies with an S or bands with a B. The first movie I thought of was Shawshank Redemption and the first "band" I thought of was the Backstreet Boys. But the Facebook "challenge" isn't to avoid thinking about those names, it's to actively think of something different.

I'll admit, the way it's phrased does make you think more about movies with an S or bands with a B, but I don't think everyone realizes that this bias is in play. There are now doubt some people that will think "Wow, a lot of movies have the letter S in it, I wonder why?" instead of accurately recognizing the bias that exists when your choices are restricted.

And if you want a good comeback if that challenge gets posted on your wall, try this image.