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Study Shows Many Men Prefer Electrical Shocks To Being Alone With Thoughts


"If you had the chance to sit quietly in a room. No phone. No music. Nothing to distract you from your own thoughts. Would you take it? Folks from a study we read recently had a very clear answer: please, no. Sound Medicine's Jill Ditmire explains in this week's Checkup," says host Barbara Lewis. 

Ditmire: Just how hard could it be for a college student to spend some time using only their mind to entertain them? Harder than Psychology Professor Tim Wilson and his colleagues at the University of Virginia imagined. 

Wilson: So we took away their cell phones and writing implements and purses and everything. And then we asked them to sit in a room, that was unadorned and had nothing on the walls. We gave them really simple instructions. We said could you sit here for a few minutes.  

Ditmire: But they couldn’t. 

Wilson: I wouldn’t say they were miserable but most people were kind of bored and didn’t seem to take advantage of the time in some sense. 

Ditmire: Wilson thought the setting might have been a distraction. So he let the students try the experiment at home. That didn’t work either. 

Wilson: In fact ,many people told us they couldn’t get through our thinking period without cheating by reaching for phone or turning on music. 

Ditmire: Researchers were perplexed.

WIlson: It didn’t seem like it should be that hard to us. I mean, after all each of us has a big brain stocked full of pleasant memories that we could call on, or things we are looking forward to in the future, or the ability just to let our minds wander to pleasant topics. 

Ditmire: As a last ditch effort they offered the students a choice: Sit and think quietly. Or take an electrical shock. 

Wilson: Kind of like a severe static shock, nothing really strong, but a little painful. Everyone did it and said, "yeah, it was a little painful. I don't really want to do that again." 

Ditmire: But they could…

Wilson: They had electrodes attached to their ankles. The button is there, its really up to you we’d prefer you entertain yourselves with your thoughts but if for any reason you want to press the button you can. 

Ditmire: So they did. 

Wilson: Two thirds of men took at least one shock and about a quarter of women did so

Ditmire: And what do you make of that?

Wilson: It seems many people want to shock themselves out of boredom is one way of putting it.

Ditmire: And while daunted, Wilson is not discouraged. 

Wilson: I think we would all benefit if during stressful times of the day, we could all retreat into our minds for a few minutes and kind of chill out. 

Ditmire: Reporting for Sound Medicine, I’m Jill Ditmire.

The University of Virginia study appeared in the July 4 issue of the journal Science.