Do you like to spend time alone?
In a series of six experiments with a total of 259 participants, researchers compared people’s predictions of how much they would enjoy sitting and contemplating with their actual experience of doing so.
In the first experiment, they asked people to estimate how much they would enjoy sitting alone with their thoughts for 20 minutes without allowing distractions such as reading, walking, or looking at a smartphone. Afterwards, participants reported how much they enjoyed it.
researchers found that People enjoyed spending time with their thoughts more than they anticipated. This was true in various forms of the experiment in which participants sat in a bare conference room or in a small, dark tented area with no visual stimulation; Variations in which the thought period lasted three minutes or 20 minutes; And a variation in which the researchers asked people to report on their pleasure in the middle of the task rather than at the end. In every case, participants enjoyed thinking more than expected.
In another experiment, researchers compared one group of participants’ predictions of how much they would enjoy thinking with the other group’s predictions of how much they would enjoy checking news on the Internet. Again, the researchers found that people underestimated their pleasure of thinking. The thought group reported significantly less enjoyment of the task than the news-checking group, but afterward, both groups reported similar enjoyment levels.
According to study co-author Kou Murayama, PhD, of the University of Tübingen in Germany, these results are particularly important in our modern age of information overload and constant access to distractions. “Now it’s super easy to ‘kill time.’ would be boring,” he said. “However, if that prediction is wrong, you are missing the opportunity to engage yourself positively without relying on such stimuli.”
According to the researchers, this missed opportunity comes at a cost because previous studies have shown that there are some benefits to spending time letting your mind wander. It can help people solve problems, increase their creativity and even help them find meaning in life. “By actively avoiding thinking activities, people can miss out on these important benefits,” Murayama said.
It is important to note that the participants did not rated the thinking as an extremely enjoyable task, but as more enjoyable than they thought, according to Murayama.
On average, the participants’ enjoyment level was about 3 to 4 on a 7-point scale. According to Murayama, future research should explore which types of thinking are most pleasurable and motivating. “Not all thinking is intrinsically rewarding, and in fact, some people suffer from a vicious cycle of negative thinking,” he said.
According to the researchers, future research should also explore the reasons why people underestimate how much they enjoy thinking. The results need to be replicated in a more diverse population than in the current study, in which all participants were college students in either Japan or the UK.