Study: People Don’t Enjoy Being Alone With Their Thoughts

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Normally, one would find it therapeutic to be with their thoughts and have moments of solitude, but a new study found the exact opposite. The researchers, who published their findings in the July 4 issue of the journal Science, found that not only do people not like to be alone with their thoughts, but that they would rather hurt themselves than do so.

Through 11 studies, University of Virginia and Harvard psychologists concluded that participants were not a fan of being in a room alone with nothing to do. In fact, the subjects of the study were significantly more content doing activities like listening to music and playing with their smartphone. Some participants even preferred giving themselves electric shocks — albeit mild ones – rather than thinking or daydreaming.

“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,” UVa psychologist Timothy Wilson said in a statement.

In their study, Wilson and his colleagues asked some subjects to be alone with their thoughts for six minutes, 15 minutes, and anywhere in between. Some of the earlier studies included college students who reported that the “thinking period” was far from enjoyable and that they could not concentrate. After seeing the observations from college students, Wilson and his colleagues conducted a second study with more age-diverse participants from 18 to 77 years old and discovered similar findings.