In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in
a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane
external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to
themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to
be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.
Many participants elected to receive negative
stimulation over no stimulation
—especially men: 67% of men (12 of 18) gave themselves
at least one shock during the thinking period
[range = 0 to 4 shocks, mean (M) = 1.47,
SD =1.46, not including one outlier who administered
190 shocks to himself], compared to 25%
of women (6 of 24; range = 0 to 9 shocks,
M = 1.00, SD = 2.32). Note that these results only
include participants who had reported that they
would pay to avoid being shocked again.
The gender difference is probably due to the
tendency for men to be higher in sensation-seeking.
But what is striking is that simply
being alone with their own thoughts for 15 min
was apparently so aversive that it drove many
participants to self-administer an electric shock
that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.