Getting Stuck on Myself: The Cognitive Processes Underlying Mental Suffering

van Vugt, M., 2017, Self, Culture and Consciousness. Menon, S., Nagaraj, N. & Binoy, V. V. (eds.). Springer, p. 319-333 15 p.

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  • Getting Stuck on Myself

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Recent research has started to map out the cognitive and neural processes underlying spontaneous thinking. However, this basic neuroscience has mostly overlooked one crucial aspect: the dimension of being stuck in self-related thought—a phenomenon sometimes referred to as ‘perseverative cognition’. Decades of clinical research and thousands of years of, among others, Buddhist philosophy has suggested that spontaneous thought that perpetually returns back to hopes and fears about the self is the cause of a lot of mental suffering. But what are the cognitive and neural processes that build up this type of sticky, self-related thinking? How can we start to measure it in the laboratory? I will review the basic cognitive science of spontaneous thought, together with the clinical psychology literature on different types of self-related thinking. I will use that to build a cognitive model of this type of perseverative cognition, accompanied by some preliminary experimental evidence. Finally, I will make suggestions for how different types of mental training could help to reduce perseverative cognition, and thereby help to reduce suffering. I suggest that bringing together knowledge from neuroscience, clinical psychology and ancient wisdom traditions, we can learn to better understand important patterns in our own minds.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSelf, Culture and Consciousness
EditorsSangeetha Menon, Nithin Nagaraj, V.V. Binoy
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-10-5777-9
ISBN (Print)978-981-10-5776-2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • mind-wandering, self, meditation

ID: 56163558