While most of us would admit that there are people we know that we'd go to great lengths to not spend time alone with, a new study suggests that many of us aren't too crazy about being alone with ourselves either.
Sitting alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes was such a challenge that roughly two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose to give themselves electric shocks during experiments in the study.
The report from psychologists at the universities of Virginia and Harvard was set up to offer participants the opportunity to sit quietly, alone in a room for 15 minutes of unadulterated solitude with no distractions ... other than a machine in front of them that could deliver an electric shock.
"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," explained University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson.
Researchers arrived at this particular experiment for the study after working through a series of other experiments involving the notion of having nothing to do. Participants were essentially given somewhat vague directions that they would be left alone for a period of time, between six and 15 minutes, and asked to not entertain themselves in any way.
Of participants in the initial "left alone" tests, 58 percent said they found it "somewhat" difficult or more, and 42 per cent rated their enjoyment below the "somewhat" midpoint. These responses led the team of researchers to see just how far participants would go to avoid being alone with just their thoughts to occupy them.
All of the participants in the "electric shock" experiment had received a sample of the shock and reported that they would pay to avoid being shocked again.
"What is striking is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid," the report concluded.
The team of researchers also noted that men tend to seek "sensations" more than women, which would help explain why 67 percent of men self-administered shocks compared with only 25 percent of women in the experiment who did.