|For many people, self-administering painful electrical shocks is preferable to being left alone with their thoughts. The typical male shocked himself 1.47 times, with one outlier shocking himself 190 times in 15 minutes.|
By Nadia Whitehead
"Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and colleagues recruited hundreds of undergraduate student volunteers and community members to take part in “thinking periods.” Individuals were placed in sparsely furnished rooms and asked to put away their belongings, such as cellphones and pens. They then were given one of two tests that lasted between 6 and 15 minutes. While some were told to think about whatever they wanted, others chose from several prompts, such as going out to eat or playing a sport, and planned out how they would think about it during the period.
Afterward, the team asked the volunteers to rate their experience on a nine-point scale, where the higher the number, the more enjoyable their time was. In both the free-thinking and planned-prompt scenarios, about 50% of people did not like the experience, reporting an enjoyment level at or below the midpoint of the scale. Participants generally gave high ratings of boredom, too, according to Wilson.
To see if a change of scenery would help, the team let participants do the studies in their own homes, but still found similar results. Overall, the subjects said they enjoyed activities like reading and listening to music about twice as much as just thinking.
The researchers then decided to take the experiment a step further. For 15 minutes, the team left participants alone in a lab room in which they could push a button and shock themselves if they wanted to. The results were startling: Even though all participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked with electricity, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think...."