Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Repost: 15 Minutes Alone - A Study

Source: Mark Prigg, "Need Some Alone Time? Researchers Find Men Would Rather Administer Electric Shocks to Themselves than Spend Time Alone with Nothing to Do but Think," Mail Online, July 3, 2014, accessed July 22, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2679950/Need-time-Researchers-men-administer-electric-shocks-spent-time-do.html.


We've all complained that we would love some time alone - but few people actually enjoy it, researchers have found.

Most volunteers who were asked to spend no more than 15 minutes alone in a room doing nothing but sitting and thinking found the task onerous.

In fact, some of the volunteers, men in particular, preferred to administer mild electrical shocks to themselves rather than sit and do nothing.

'Many people find it difficult to use their own minds to entertain themselves, at least when asked to do it on the spot,' said University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy Wilson, who led the study appearing in the journal Science.

'In this modern age, with all the gadgets we have, people seem to fill up every moment with some external activity.'

Nearly 800 people took part in the study.

Some experiments involved only college students.

The researchers then broadened the study to include adults who live in the same area.

They went to a church and farmer's market to recruit people from a variety of backgrounds and ages up to 77.

And they got the same results: most participants regardless of age or gender did not like to be idle and alone with their thoughts.

In some experiments, college volunteers were asked to sit alone in a bare laboratory room and spend six to 15 minutes doing nothing but thinking or daydreaming.

They were not allowed to have a cellphone, music player, reading material or writing implements and were asked to remain in their seats and stay awake.

Most reported they did not enjoy the task and found it hard to concentrate.

Researchers then had adult and college student volunteers do the same thing in their homes, and got the same results.

In addition, a third of volunteers cheated by doing things like using a cellphone or listening to music.

The researchers did an experiment to see if the student volunteers would even do an unpleasant task rather than just sit and think.

They gave them a mild shock of the intensity of static electricity.

Volunteers were asked whether, if given $5, they would spend some of it to avoid getting shocked again.

The ones who said they would be willing to pay to avoid another shock were asked to sit alone and think for 15 minutes but were given the option of giving themselves that same shock by simply pushing a button.

Many did not, especially men: Two-thirds (12 of 18) administered at least one shock.

One did it 190 times. A quarter of the women (six of 24) gave themselves at least one shock.

'I think they just wanted to shock themselves out of the boredom,' Wilson said.

'Sometimes negative stimulation is preferable to no stimulation.'


Pascal was right: diversion is both modern man's greatest misery and greatest consolation from misery. We don't know how to sit quietly in our rooms. 

It would be very easy for some of us to see this study and scoff and claim, "They didn't test me. I could have done it easy." In a study of 800 people, surely at least a few of them had a similar idea. But if we were to be totally honest with ourselves and face the stark truth: could we find pleasure in being alone with ourselves, our thoughts, our being? Not distracting ourselves, not reading, not thinking, not fiddling; just being. 

Here's why most can't: 1) a habit of diversion from modern living; 2) a deep aversion to any circumstance that brings us face to face with the truth of ourselves; silence and darkness are two powerful ways of doing this. Prayer is another. Traumatic events are also another. Beauty and child-like simplicity can also do it; see, for example, how Mr. Rogers totally disarms Joan Rivers in this interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-Kp5YeqrlE.

For most of us, the truth of ourselves is quite simple: it is the horrifying pain that we have endured for so long that we will do anything to forget about it. It is the shame and fear that has been instilled in us by our parents, peers, society, and even ourselves. It is our deepest secret and what we always are hiding from. We shun silence as boring; the darkness as full of monsters (fear of the dark, the boogeyman, which is simply a representation of our inner, psychological turmoil that we fear); prayer as going unheard or useless; simplicity as naivety; beauty as trivial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnOPu0_YWhw); trauma as the universe's sadism; and death as the ultimate evil for an individual (YOLO).

The truth is we don't know what to do with ourselves, so we just, in the words of the Joker, "do... things...."

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