The challenges of the disengaged mind
The authors of a research paper concluded that the human brain had evolved such a strong instinct for being active that most people struggled to switch off , even for a short period.
“Simply being alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many to self administer an electric shock,” said Professor Tim Wilson, who led research at University of Virginia. Others put the findings down to the widespread use of smartphones and social media.
In a series of experiments, published yesterday in the journal Science, participants sat alone for up to 15 minutes in an empty room at a Laboratory. Most reported they did not enjoy the experience. A similar result was found when participants spent time alone at home.
In a final experiment, the scientists found many participants opted to give themselves a mild electric shock. Out of 18 men, 12 gave themselves at least one shock during the 15 minute period, compared with 6 out of 24 women. The authors said the findings showed men tended to me more “sensation seeking” than women.
One explanation for people’s aversion to being left alone with their thoughts is that they focus on their own shortcomings and “get caught in ruminative thought cycles”, the paper concludes.