Most people prefer doing something active to siting alone in silence or being alone with their own thoughts. But is the preference for doing over thinking so strong that most of us would prefer to do something unpleasant (i.e., something we would normally pay to avoid) over sitting quietly with our own thoughts for fifteen minutes? That is a question that a team of researchers decided to study in 2014. Rachel Feltman reported the results of their study in an article for the Washington Post on July 3rd 2014.
Feltman explained how participants were left alone in a room for a 15-minute session and told just to let their minds wander. They were not allowed to have any distractions with them apart from a device that gave an electric shock. Participants had previously been administered the electric shock and then asked how much they would pay, out of a $5 allowance, to avoid another shock. Most people said they would pay one or two dollars not to have another shock. But when left in the room, many of the participants found it so uncomfortable not to be doing anything that they chose to start shocking themselves an average of seven times. 12 of the 18 men chose to chock themselves, as opposed to only 6 of the 24 women. One man chose to shock himself 190 times.
I don’t know how rigorous the methodology was for this study or if there were other variables that might explain the participant’s decision to shock themselves. However, the study does seem to support something that we have probably all experienced: our bias for doing over thinking is so strong that we would rather engage in harmful behaviors instead of having to be still.