Do you enjoy time alone with your thoughts, or does it drive you mad? In today's high-tech, ultra-connected world, the ability to occasionally "disconnect" seems to have become a forgotten skill. In fact, you might call introspection a dying art.
Now a startling new study published in the journal Science has found that most people find their own company so intolerable that they would rather self-administer an electric shock than spend just 6 to 15 minutes alone, reports the Washington Post.
The study, which was aimed at researching people's ability to let their minds wander, asked participants to sit alone in a room and do nothing but think for up to 15 minutes. Participants found the activity so difficult to complete that researchers decided to add an additional element to the room: a device that allowed the participants to self-administer an electric shock.
"It dawned on us: If people find this so difficult," said Timothy Wilson, lead author of the study, "would they prefer negative stimulations to boredom?"
Surprisingly, participants did prefer the shock-- especially men. Two thirds of the men, and one quarter of women, opted to electrocute themselves rather than spend a few minutes alone with their own thoughts. And most of the people who chose the shock didn't just choose it once-- they shocked themselves an average of about seven times. One man (whose data was left out of the study) chose to shock himself a whopping 190 times.
"We have this big brain full of pleasant memories, and we’re able to tell ourselves stories and make up fantasies. But despite that, we kept finding that people didn’t like it much and found it hard," said Wilson.
The device used for shocking in the study was built with a 9-volt battery, so it didn't deliver a strong shock, but it was still rated as an unpleasant feeling by participants. Researchers concluded their paper by remarking that "the untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself."
If you're drawn to the peacefulness of meditation, you probably find this study's conclusions discouraging. But before blaming Facebook, consider this: the study found that participants who used social media less frequently weren't actually any better at daydreaming.
"I suppose it’s kind of circular," Wilson pontificated. "We wouldn’t crave these things if we weren’t in need of distractions. But having so many available keeps us from learning how to disengage."
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