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Study: People Would Rather Be Shocked Than Be Alone With Their Thoughts 333

Posted by samzenpus
from the still-your-mind dept.
sciencehabit writes "How much do we hate being alone with our own thoughts? Enough to give ourselves an electric shock. In a new study, researchers recruited hundreds of people and made them sit in an empty room and just think for about 15 minutes. About half of the volunteers hated the experience. In a separate experiment, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to push a button and shock themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think. One of the study authors suggests that the results may be due to boredom and the trouble that we have controlling our thoughts. "I think [our] mind is built to engage in the world," he says. "So when we don't give it anything to focus on, it's kind of hard to know what to do."
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Study: People Would Rather Be Shocked Than Be Alone With Their Thoughts

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  • Sad, sad times... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@nosPam.keirstead.org> on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:12AM (#47382789) Homepage

    At first I assumed that the people were stuck n a room for hours upon hours with nothing to do. Then I read...


    "The period of time that Wilson and his colleagues asked participants to be alone with their thoughts ranged from six to 15 minutes. Many of the first studies involved college student participants, most of whom reported that this "thinking period" wasn't very enjoyable and that it was hard to concentrate. So Wilson conducted another study with participants from a broad selection of backgrounds, ranging in age from 18 to 77, and found essentially the same results.

    Is it just me or is it a very poor reflection on today's society if people can not just sit and think for 15 minutes?

    For the record I would have ZERO problem doing this at all... in fact I could think for hours... although having a pencil and paper to keep track of ideas and plans would be helpful.

  • Re:Just 15 minutes? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:14AM (#47382793)
    Not Buddhists for sure
  • by Assmasher (456699) on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:16AM (#47382805) Journal

    Sensory deprivation experiments, partial or full, have been going on for decades. How is this 'news' to the scientific community?

  • by Noryungi (70322) on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:23AM (#47382839) Homepage Journal

    ... And just about any form of meditation revolves about emptying your mind, focusing on your breathing and discarding thoughts (after examination) rather than dwell on them.

    I just read this study as an example of how people are completely disconnected from their own inner life and addicted to constant stimulation. Seriously, an electric shock instead of enjoying a little bit of peace and quiet and a chance to gather yourself? What kind of total lack of self-control is that?

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:29AM (#47382857)

    Sensory deprivation experiments, partial or full, have been going on for decades. How is this 'news' to the scientific community?

    Maybe because this isn't really about classic "sensory deprivation." In one phase of the experiment, they even let people sit in their own homes and just asked them to just think quietly for 6 to 15 minutes. I'd hardly call that "sensory deprivation." Most people apparently HATED the experience (even more than they hated sitting quietly in a lab setting).

    I'm familiar with sensory deprivation studies, but personally I find it shocking (pardon the pun) that people are willing to self-administer painful shocks just to avoid being alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Don't you? Clearly the researchers did, given what they said in TFA. They even questioned why they should bother with the shock test, because they thought NO ONE would shock themselves. And yet nearly half did.

  • Re:Just 15 minutes? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:37AM (#47382893)

    I'd be interested to know the correlation between each candidate experience and whether they are introvert or extrovert on the Myers-Briggs scale.

  • The Power of Now (Score:4, Interesting)

    by transporter_ii (986545) on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:39AM (#47382911) Homepage

    Carl Jung tells in one of his books of a conversation he had with a Native American chief who pointed out to him that in his perception most white people have tense faces, staring eyes, and a cruel demeanor. He said: "They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something. They are always uneasy and restless. We don't know what they want. We think they are mad." ...

    The Buddha taught that the root of suffering is to be found in our constant wanting and craving.

    The Power of Now, p. 62 - 63.

  • Re:How fitting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:50AM (#47382977)

    I can pace and think for hours, but I can't do that while sitting down. I think it's because my favorite activity in the world (apart from sex) is to go into the woods for hours on end, alone. Often take a canteen of water and a knife and just wander in the woods off the beaten path and think.

    Last time I found a miniature junkyard, can't even see it from satellite pictures thanks to the dense canopy. Rusted cars, construction equipment and debris, random vegetation, complete quiet.

  • Re: Just 15 minutes? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kqs (1038910) on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:55AM (#47383009)

    In related news,scientists have discovered a correlation between "thinks that signing up for experiments is fun" and "extrovert".

  • by transporter_ii (986545) on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:56AM (#47383013) Homepage

    "This is just fascinating: Joe Henrich and his colleagues are shaking the foundations of psychology and economics, and explain why social science studies of Westerners — and Americans in particular — don't really tell us about the human condition [psmag.com]: 'Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.'"

  • by paradxum (67051) on Friday July 04, 2014 @08:59AM (#47383029)
    So I can say that without any stimulation I can sit for about a day and a half without any real problem. I get along with me just fine.

    I know this rather well due to hunting deer in Wisconsin. Yes, you sit there for a little over a week with very limited interaction. You can't make noise, you can't move too much. It's you and nature. Yes it is a type of meditation when you are not seeing any deer. For me this is what happens:
    First half a day: I have tons of things to think about. Little niggling problems that I haven't had the time to sit and think about. Typically things like how can I best fix this at the house, what would the optimal method of doing this in this program be.

    Second half of the day: Things quiet down a bit start thinking about the Wife, kids, finances... Figuring out what to do when this one or that one does something, how to best react...etc.

    Day 2 first half: Hey look... nature... that tree is kinda neat... I wonder why it grew that way...

    Day2 second half: Ok, ummmm what now.... kinda bored... what time is it... oh, two minutes since I last checked.

    Day 3+: Find things to be interested in... a single squirrel or bird can be hours of entertainment and the highlight of your day.

    6-15 minutes!?!? Man, I haven't even finished thinking about that hot girl I saw on the way in! lol
  • Re:Sad, sad times... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@gdargau d . n et> on Friday July 04, 2014 @09:14AM (#47383103) Homepage
    I also found this very strange I'm both extrovert and introvert, meaning I have to problem taking with groups of people, even at the center of attention sometimes. But I can be alone. I'm a climber and I've done numerous solo ascents and expeditions, the longest was 28 days alone. It's a good thing that nobody was around because of the smell, but I didn't have any problem 'being with myself'. I even think that people who can't stand 'being with themselves' are not people _I_ want to be with in the first place !!! I mean, if they can't stand themselves, why should I ?!?
  • Re:How fitting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Friday July 04, 2014 @09:15AM (#47383109)

    Every time I read these types of studies I am baffled. I could sit in an empty room for days without issue. Just cause you're alone doesn't mean you're without stimuli - I actually enjoy sitting pondering problems and get annoyed when someone comes and distracts me from it.

    A million times THIS!

    One of the things I ponder is that these people who cannot be alone with themselves place that need to never be alone as some sort of proper and good state, and that anyone who can function by themselves is the outlier, the weirdo, the one "you have to look out for." How many times to we see the story about some crackpot that shoots up a school or McDonalds, and the writer feels compelled to mention that they were a "loner". Validation for people who think that their inability to be alone protects them from that fate. Sorry, but the crackpot was mentally ill, that's why they shot the place up, not because they enjoyed solitude.

    When in fact, if a person cannot be alone with their thoughts, perhaps they have the mental issue. I rather enjoy my own company,

  • Re:Just 15 minutes? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gim Tom (716904) on Friday July 04, 2014 @09:55AM (#47383303)
    INTJ and 15 minutes of just thinking are no problem. Even less so since I began doing some meditation a bit over a year ago.
  • Re:How fitting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Friday July 04, 2014 @10:06AM (#47383351)

    One of the things I ponder is that these people who cannot be alone with themselves place that need to never be alone as some sort of proper and good state, and that anyone who can function by themselves is the outlier, the weirdo, the one "you have to look out for." How many times to we see the story about some crackpot that shoots up a school or McDonalds, and the writer feels compelled to mention that they were a "loner".

    The reason is that the media (especially TV) relies on people who can't think for themselves. They need people to be "social" in order to have the most impact.

  • Re:How fitting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by war4peace (1628283) on Friday July 04, 2014 @10:15AM (#47383407)

    It's okay to be an extrovert, but if you can't think alone for 15 minutes, that makes you ADHD (Or ADD)-prone.
    My take: the inability to just sit tight and think for 15 minutes is a result of how society and way of living are shaped nowadays. Instant gratification, stimuli overload, everything is faster than the speed of thought (literally).

    People get used to that way of doing things and that way of living, and when you get them out of their perceived "natural" environment, they freak out. Quite normal, all things considering, might I say.

  • by clickety6 (141178) on Friday July 04, 2014 @10:15AM (#47383411)
    I wonder if the test would be the same if they had let people shock themselves ponce beforehand and then asked them to sit in there for 15 minutes. It seems to me that if you put a big red shiny button in front of them and tell them to ignore it, you're testing their limits of curiosity and self restraint more than their ability to sit and think quietly. It's a "Don't think about punk elephants!" situation.
  • Re:How fitting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday July 04, 2014 @10:42AM (#47383561)

    The curious press a button that shocks them at least once; The masochistic press the button many more times, over and over, with rising passion and obsession until with a wild cry of raw lust their body shudders with intense release and they hear the soft singing of angels.

    Al Schopenhauer

  • Re:How fitting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eulernet (1132389) on Friday July 04, 2014 @11:11AM (#47383679)

    I believe that a lot of people need external stimuli to avoid boredom.
    In fact, my wife is like this and doesn't know how to busy herself.
    Meanwhile, I can sit down and be busy for hours without any support.

    It's probably related to the fact that I had to play alone when I was baby.
    Nowadays, I see parents always trying to stimulate their babies, who then become attention whores.
    They are building future extroverts.

  • Re:How fitting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2014 @02:29PM (#47384715)

    If one of the results of autism is the ability to focus and think and solve problems and acquire a deeper understanding of things, then at least that aspect of autism would definitely be something to brag about.

    You, on the other hand, with the chip on your shoulder because apparently you relate best to those who live a life of superficial shallow thought and gaining all energy from social interactions and running your mouth, have substantially less to be proud of.

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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