According to a study by the University of Virginia, many people find the prospect of being left alone with their thoughts uncomfortable, to the point that they would rather endure an unpleasant experience like an electric shock. The study, involving a diverse group of participants, found that the majority did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in solitude, with many preferring "to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts."
It's interesting to consider why this might be the case. Perhaps the prospect of facing certain thoughts, feelings, and memories might bring up uncomfortable emotions for some. Or, for those used to constant stimulation, the idea of boredom might indeed feel worse than a brief, unpleasant sensation.
Highlights from the study:
- In multiple studies, most participants said they found it difficult to concentrate and their minds wandered when left alone to think, even though there were no distractions.
- On average, participants did not enjoy the experience of sitting alone thinking. In one study, nearly half reported enjoyment at or below the midpoint on a scale.
- Being at home versus in a lab did not make the experience more enjoyable. Participants reported it was equally hard to concentrate whether at home or in a lab.
- People enjoyed doing an activity like reading much more than just sitting and thinking.
- In one study, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to self-administer electric shocks instead of just sitting and thinking, even though they said they would pay to avoid the shocks.
- Personality factors like tendency to daydream positively predicted enjoyment, while poor attentional control negatively predicted enjoyment.