People prefer electric shocks to quality alone time

Scientists reveal that being left alone with your thoughts is deeply unpleasant.

People would rather shock themselves than be left alone with nothing to do, according to a study published in Science this week (July 4) by a team at the University of Virginia in the US led by psychologist Timothy Wilson.

In their first study the scientists recruited hundreds of undergraduate students and community members and asked them to sit alone in a room for 6-15 minute "thinking periods". Some were asked to think about a particular thing, such as planning a holiday, while others were given no thinking prompts.

At the end of the experiment the participants rated the experience on a nine-point scale. Half found it an unpleasant experience and many described it as boring.

“We went into this thinking it wouldn’t be that hard for people to entertain themselves,” Wilson told Science. “We have this huge brain and it’s stuffed full of pleasant memories, and we have the ability to construct fantasies and stories. We really thought this [thinking time] was something people would like.”

The scientists decided to take the study one step further. If people hated being left alone to think and would do nearly anything to escape being inside their own heads, maybe they would actively seek out negative experiences. They repeated the initial experiment and placed a button in the room that the participant could press to deliver an electric shock to themselves.

Even though every participant had said they would pay money to avoid being shocked at the start of the experiment, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to shock themselves as a way to pass the time.

“I think [our] mind is built to engage in the world,” Wilson said to Science. “So when we don’t give it anything to focus on, it’s kind of hard to know what to do.”

Courtesy: Science Alert
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