I can resist everything except temptation
– Oscar Wilde
If you are having problems with cravings, this is a post about one mechanism that maintains it according to research.
A study shows that desire thinking underlies addictive behaviors and cravings (Caselli and Spada, 2014). So, it might be possible to decrease cravings by decreasing the thinking process referred to as ‘desire thinking’.
While it can be tough to resist cravings in a particular moment, you may find it easier to decrease the thinking about cravings.
In the study, the authors examined how metacognitive beliefs and desire thinking were related to different kinds of addictive behaviors. The study examined four clinical samples (N = 493 participants) and a community sample (N = 494).
The samples had different addictive behaviors, such as problems with alcohol use, gambling, internet use and tobacco use.
The authors summarize the results of the study as:
- Desire-thinking is a cognitive process that leads to the escalation of craving
- Metacognitive beliefs may drive the activation and perseveration of desire-thinking
Another study of 250 internet users found that desire thinking predicted ‘problematic internet use’ over time, even after controlling for anxiety, depression, and craving for internet use (Spada, Caselli and Nikcevic, 2014).
So, both studies emphasize the role of desire thinking in maintaining addictive behaviors. Let’s explore the concept of desire thinking and how it is related to addictive behaviors.
The Metacognitive Model of Desire Thinking and Craving
The metacognitive model of desire thinking illustrated step by step (Caselli and Spada, 2014):
- Positive metacognitions about desire thinking: A person’s positive ideas about desire thinking, such as “I need to think about it to maintain my level of excitement during the day”, or “I have to think about it when I am in a bad mood to feel better”, or “I am such a person who thinks about this stuff”, or “Thinking about it helps me distract myself from the negative”, and so on.
- Imaginal prefiguration: Attentional resources are allocated on target-related information as images in the mind
- Verbal perseveration: Images in the mind trigger verbal perseveration (read: your thinking). Extended conscious self-talk about reaching the desired target, which marks the activation of desire thinking. Verbal perseveration is then associated to negative metacognitions about desire thinking and craving, denoting the pathological escalation of desire thinking.
- Negative metacognition about desire thinking: A person’s negative ideas about desire thinking, such as “Cravings mean that I do not have control over my mind” or “My thinking process is uncontrollable”, or “Experiencing cravings means that I have no control over myself”.
The model suggests that metacognitive beliefs underlie desire thinking, and that desire thinking increases craving.
The practical implication of this research is that, by exploring and challenging one’s metacognitive beliefs, it is possible to reduce desire thinking and cravings as a result.
The authors state that desires don’t matter, the response to them does.