Monday, 6 September 2010

Grab it, bag it, bin it - a new approach to psychological problem solving

If something's troubling you, write it down, put it in an envelope and seal it. Doing so will help bring you psychological closure. Xiuping Li at NUS Business School asked 80 students to write about a recent decision they regretted. Half of them were then told to seal their written recollection in an envelope. Afterwards, the envelope students felt less negative about the event than control students who just handed in their recollection without an envelope. The finding was replicated with forty female students who were asked to write about a strong personal desire that hadn't been satisfied.

Two further experiments shed some light on the process. Sealing a disturbing news story in an envelope reduced the negative emotional impact of the story and reduced participants' memory of it. By contrast, sealing an unrelated piece of paper did not have these effects, thus showing that it's the act of containing the emotional material that's important, not the mere act of putting anything in an envelope.

Finally, sealing in an envelope a written recollection of a regretted event led participants to feel less negative about the event than simply paper-clipping the pages together - so it's not just the mere act of doing something to a written recollection, it is specifically enclosing that material that is beneficial. What's more, this final experiment showed that the link between enveloping the material and participants' feelings was entirely mediated by their having a greater sense of psychological closure.

'We have shown that the metaphorical act of enclosing and sealing influences the memory, in the sense that the recollection of the emotional details of an event becomes weaker,' the researchers said. 'An effective way to relieve distress may be for the distressed person to seal an object related to his or her emotions in a package.' The researchers added that future research should test whether the effect still occurs if someone else does the sealing of the material, and if participants are told the purpose of the exercise.
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ResearchBlogging.orgLi X, Wei L, & Soman D (2010). Sealing the emotions genie: the effects of physical enclosure on psychological closure. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21 (8), 1047-50 PMID: 20622143

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

5 comments:

  1. My mum always used to suggest I do this considering I get so hung up about recent worries and regrets. I suppose it gives psychological closure as it represents a physical end of an event or decision - it's done and can't be changed. Maybe I should try this next time I'm stressing out about something I regret.

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  2. I have been doing this since my childhood, writing the down the trouble on piece of paper, sealing it and sometimes tearing it to pieces also helps. Thanks for a great tip, it works..

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  3. Anonymous10:12 am

    Would this serve the same effect if people do this in their mind?

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  4. To anonymous, I think it may work to a certain extent. However, by behaviorally doing the act, the effect may possibly be stronger. But that's just my hypothesis.

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  5. I have done something similar to this, however added another choice: Write down your problem as a question for example, "How can I meet more people?" And then put it in a box (this is called an 'Idea System') and forget about it. Ideas will come to you when not trying to think about it; when they do, write them down on anything handy--napkin, paper, corner of a postal envelope, etc. Put them in your pocket/ purse. At the end of the day, throw them in your box. At the end of 2-3 weeks, open the box and you will see many brilliant solutions! :)

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