Our brains can unconsciously decide to withhold negative information, according to new work by psychologists at Bangor University in the U.K.
Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, the psychologists discovered the unconscious process during their work with bilingual people.
Building on a previous discovery — that bilingual people subconsciously access their first language when reading in their second language — the psychologists found that the brain similarly shuts down when faced with a negative word, such as war, discomfort, and unfortunate.
“We think this is a protective mechanism,” added co-researcher Guillaume Thierry, Ph.D. “We know that in trauma, for example, people behave very differently. Surface conscious processes are modulated by a deeper emotional system in the brain. Perhaps this brain mechanism spontaneously minimizes the negative impact of disturbing emotional content on our thinking, to prevent causing anxiety or mental discomfort.”The researchers said they were surprised by the finding.“We were expecting to find modulation between the different words and perhaps a heightened reaction to the emotional word, but what we found was the exact opposite to what we expected — a cancellation of the response to the negative words,” Thierry said.