60-Second Science

Guys Prefer Electric Shocks to Boredom

Guys would rather zap themselves with electricity than be left alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Karen Hopkin reports

How often have you longed to have time to just sit quietly and think? Well, be careful what you wish for. Because a study shows that many people find such interludes incredibly unpleasant. So uncomfortable, in fact, that they would rather zap themselves with electricity than be left alone with their thoughts. The shocking results appear in the journal Science. [Timothy D. Wilson et al, Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind]

In the experiment, participants were asked to sit alone in a room for up to 15 minutes…with no cell phone, no reading material, no music—so, nothing to entertain them, save their own rambling thoughts. Afterward, most subjects reported that they found it difficult to concentrate and that they did not enjoy the experience. 

Then, to assess just how much subjects disliked doing nothing, the researchers repeated the experiment. Only this time they gave volunteers the added option of occasionally giving themselves a mild electric jolt. Two thirds of the men in the study—and one quarter of the women—chose to take advantage of the shock option at least once during their time out.

The results suggest that if there’s anything worse than losing your mind, it’s getting caught alone with it.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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