A study published in the journal Science shows 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women would prefer a quick, electric shock to sitting by themselves and thinking.

When was the last time you were alone with your thoughts? No cell phone, no computer, no books, just you and your gray matter? And can you remember how long you were able to hold your own attention? This was a question that a team of scientists, led by University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy Wilson, wanted to answer.

“We went into this thinking that mind wandering wouldn’t be that hard,” Wilson said. “People usually think of mind wandering as being a bad thing, because it interrupts when you’re trying to pay attention. But we wanted to see what happens when mind wandering is the goal.” Wilson and his team published their findings in the journal Science recently, and the results they found, well, shocked them. Test subjects, both in a controlled environment and at their homes, were asked to sit by themselves and think for 6 to 15 minutes, and many reported that they cheated and whipped out a cell phone or started listening to music before that time elapsed. Even those who got through it said the experience was difficult or unpleasant.

After a few other iterations on the experiment, Wilson and company decided to offer one form of stimulation for their volunteers – a device that would give them a small shock from a nine volt battery if they pushed a button. “It dawned on us: If people find this so difficult …would they prefer negative stimulations to boredom?” Wilson said. The volunteers were never forced to use the machine, and Wilson and his colleagues at first thought it wasn’t even worth doing. But at the end of the new test, 67 percent of men, or 12 out of 18, and 25 percent of women, or six out of 24, decided to shock themselves. According to The Washington Post:

One man (whose data was left out of the study) shocked himself 190 times. “I have no idea what was going on there,” Wilson said. “But for most people, it was more like seven times.”

Also interesting to note – before stepping into the room, most participants said they would pay money not to be shocked. The study submitted by Wilson and his team attribute the behavior of the men to males being more prone to “sensation seeking” than women.

According to the Washington Post, the researchers are still trying to figure out exactly why this behavior occurs, but they hypothesize its part of the reason some seek to gain control over their thoughts with techniques such as meditation.

Source: The Washington Post

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