Sitting quietly even worse than electric shock for most men, study finds

Is sitting alone with nothing to do, nothing to fondle, and nothing to look at unpleasant for many people? This is a question that was recently answered by a group of University of Virginia researchers. The results of their investigation are…shocking.

Published in Science Magazine on July 4, the report documents 11 studies in which participants were required to sit from six to 15 minutes in isolation with no devices or distractions. They only thing they had to think about or do was entertain their own thoughts. This was more unpleasant to most than doing mundane tasks and even receiving painful stimuli.

“I’m really excited to see this paper,” said Matthew Killingsworth in a Science news article. Killingsworth is a psychologist at the University of California (UC), San Francisco, who said his own work has turned up a similar result. “When people are spending time inside their heads, they’re markedly less happy.”

University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues recruited hundreds of undergraduate students and community volunteers to participate in a series of 11 studies to determine whether people enjoyed quiet time. They found rather that most people enjoyed doing some activity such as listening to music or using a smartphone. When given the opportunity, some even chose self-administer an electric shock over sitting quietly doing nothing.

“Those of us who enjoy some down time to just think likely find the results of this study surprising – I certainly do – but our study participants consistently demonstrated that they would rather have something to do than to have nothing other than their thoughts for even a fairly brief period of time,” Wilson said in a statement.

An important finding was a gender difference; about two-thirds of the men studied administered shocks to themselves to avoid sitting quietly, compared with only 25 percent of the women studied.