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People prefer electric shocks to thinking alone, says study

You really are your own worst enemy. A new study found people will do anything to avoid being alone with their own thoughts, to the point of actually physically hurting themselves.

University of Virginia researchers conducted 11 experiments testing people's ability to keep themselves entertained and focused without any external distractions. No matter the age, environment or background of the participants, each study turned up the same results — nobody likes to be alone in their head. (Via The Washington Post)

In the most extreme study, participants were given a choice between six to 15 minutes of "me time," and a painful electric shock. Surprisingly, 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women opted for getting zapped over quiet contemplation. One participant even shocked himself 190 times over the course of 15 minutes.

Study lead Timothy Wilson says the results came as a complete shock. "We have this huge brain and it's stuffed full of pleasant memories, and we have the ability to construct fantasies and stories. We really thought this [thinking time] was something people would like." (ViaScience)

So why is doing nothing such an awful experience for many people?

Well, our growing tech obsession has long been a prime scapegoat.

LOUIS C.K.: "You need to build an ability to be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away. The ability to just sit there." (Via TBS / "Conan")

It came up again in the reporting on this story, too. A Healthline writer says "Spending so much time shooting at angry birds and texting our friends could deprive us of opportunities to practice entertaining ourselves with plans and daydreams."

And this NPR headline leaves little doubt where the blame for our meditation aversion lies.

But while Wilson and his team don't have a clear answer for why people find contemplation so awful, he told The Atlantic it might have more to do with our distant past than our technological present.

"Mammals have evolved to monitor their environments for dangers and opportunities, and so focusing completely internally for several minutes is unnatural. 'It would be a little odd to see a chimpanzee posed like Rodin's thinker for extended periods of time.'”

The study did come up with some good news: people with meditation experience held up slightly better than their peers.

 

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