“The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.”

 

Such is the prim, slightly snooty conclusion of a recent study published in “Science” that found – wonderously, hilariously, alarmingly – that some people prefer electric shocks to being alone with their thoughts.

 

That’s right. Apparently, us human beings rarely take a shine to unadulterated introspection. In the absence of the requisite distractions of modern life – smartphones, occasional selfie, social shares, computers, cars, even traditional preoccupations such as literature and music – some of us simply cannot handle the sound of silence. Thus, we revert to whatever diversions we can find. Even those in the forms of nasty electric shocks.

 

Researchers at the University of Virginia asked study participants from a broad age range – 18 to 77 – to spend six to 15 minutes alone in a room, with only themselves for company. They then surveyed participants on their emotional responses, i.e. whether or not they had enjoyed their enforced solitude and whether or not they had found it hard to concentrate. Since the majority of respondents reacted with some degree of negativity to simply sitting and thinking, the researchers took the project one step further. Would study participants, they asked, “rather do an unpleasant activity than no activity at all?”

 

In some cases…yes.

 

In lieu of existential contemplation, participants were given the option of self-administering a mild electric shock. The results?

 

Twelve of the eighteen men in the study and six of the twenty-four women voluntarily shocked themselves at least once during the fifteen-minute period.

 

To let the tickled, bemused authors of the study speak for themselves:

 

“In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.”

 

The results could indicate a variety of things, including the possibility of an innate human bias towards action coupled with an aversion to introspection and forced periods of inactivity. On another level, the higher percentage of men willing to shock themselves could proffer more support for generalizations regarding male predispositions to pursue visceral sensations more heartily than their female counterparts. Then again, they could just be stupid.

 

What seems relatively clear, though, is that we homo sapiens do not enjoy keeping ourselves company. Perhaps we dislike contemplating the torment of existence weighed against the horror of nonbeing. Perhaps we have realized Candy Crush is a baseline prerequisite for all human experience. Perhaps our brains, unburdened by the crushing demands of our busy lives, just revert to an endless loop of Creed songs. Whatever the reason, we just cannot stomach the emptiness.

 

Oh, but there is more. The most fantastically absurd part of this whole story?

 

One gentleman shocked himself one hundred and ninety times during a fifteen-minute period.

 

190 times.

 

Not surprisingly, the researchers treated him as an outlier. The last word goes to lead researcher Timothy Wilson.

 

“I’m still just puzzled by that.”

 

What do you think? Would you rather an electric shock than a moment alone? Let’s talk in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter @aa_murph