Harvard University scientists have claimed that the very act of trying to avoid saying or doing something can sometimes cause it to happen.
"When these things do happen we sort of smile and look the other way. The curious thing is it''s the desire not to do those things that seems to increase the likelihood of doing them," Live Science quoted Daniel Wegner, a psychologist at the university, as saying.
Wegner has collected evidence that suggests many of the embarrassing moments are the result of miscommunications between conscious and unconscious mental processes. He explained that the first line of defence in such situations is conscious, in which people intentionally try to avoid thinking about, say, an inappropriate sexual act. And distracting oneself by thinking about other things is one way to avoid the thought.
The second part involves our unconscious minds, in which people try to distract themselves, while a covert search is underway, monitoring their heads for any inkling of that unwanted thought.
If it rears its ugly head, the unwanted thought gets flagged so their conscious minds can squash it.
But Wegner said that the unconscious control system is vulnerable to blips, particularly when people are stressed or have lots of things on their minds.Such stressors can interfere with a person''s conscious effort to avoid a thought or action. And thus, the unconscious mind that''s been looking for such a thought takes over and leads to a blunder.
"The conscious process of trying to do the right thing is hampered, and the unconscious process is free then to increase its sway over your behavior and mind," said Wegner. He advised: "You can avoid being in performance situations when you''re under mental load or stress. In addition, you could practice, practice, practice."
By practicing a way of thinking or an action it becomes automatic (not a conscious effort), and so it is more immune to the brain lapses.
The study has been published in the latest issue of the journal Live Science.