In fact, our own minds are so intolerable that many people chose to administer painful electric shocks to themselves rather than sit in quiet contemplation, researchers from the University of Virginia and Harvard discovered.
In a series of 11 studies, U.Va. psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues at U.Va. and Harvard University found that study participants from a range of ages generally did not enjoy spending even brief periods of time alone in a room with nothing to do but think, ponder or daydream. The participants, by and large, enjoyed much more doing external activities such as listening to music or using a smartphone. Some even preferred to give themselves mild electric shocks than to think.
“Those of us who enjoy some down time to just think likely find the results of this study surprising – I certainly do – but our study participants consistently demonstrated that they would rather have something to do than to have nothing other than their thoughts for even a fairly brief period of time,” Wilson said.
The period of time that Wilson and his colleagues asked participants to be alone with their thoughts ranged from six to 15 minutes. Many of the first studies involved college student participants, most of whom reported that this “thinking period” wasn’t very enjoyable and that it was hard to concentrate. So Wilson conducted another study with participants from a broad selection of backgrounds, ranging in age from 18 to 77, and found essentially the same results.
Some people need external stimulus. Would you rather sit in a room for 15 minutes thinking or give yourself an electric shock?
People do not enjoy being alone with nothing to do.
During several of Wilson’s experiments, participants were asked to sit alone in an unadorned room at a laboratory with no cell phone, reading materials or writing implements, and to spend six to 15 minutes – depending on the study – entertaining themselves with their thoughts. Afterward, they answered questions about how much they enjoyed the experience and if they had difficulty concentrating, among other questions.
Most reported they found it difficult to concentrate and that their minds wandered, though nothing was competing for their attention. On average the participants did not enjoy the experience. A similar result was found in further studies when the participants were allowed to spend time alone with their thoughts in their homes.
The experimenters then went on to add the electric shock option and most subjects pushed the button. ADHD much?
I'd like to see the experiment repeated in combination with IQ tests and some tests that measure the ability of people to concentrate. Do people with short attention spans have a greater likelihood to shock themselves? I bet multiple genetic variants contribute to the willingness to shock oneself when isolated. We need to separate out variants having to do with fear and pain thresholds from variants related to attention span and restlessness. People with really calm dispositions and low need for stimulus can probably sit in a room by themselves much more easily.
These findings probably have implications for industrial uses of psychology (the field known as industrial and organizational psychology). People who can stand to sit in a room thinking can probably handle some tasks that require calmly waiting for something that will then require they spur into action. Snipers come to mind. Are the people who feel compelled to shock themselves poorly suited to become snipers?
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2014 July 03 02:52 PM|