The Shocking Truth, Ctd

Recent research into solitary thinking found that a significant percentage of subjects preferred to suffer an electric shock rather than be alone with their thoughts. In a follow-up, Tom Jacobs notes that men were disproportionately likely to give themselves a jolt when faced with boredom:

Amazingly, 67 percent of the men – that is, 12 of 18 – gave themselves at least one shock during this period of thought and reflection. Only 25 percent of the women self-administered the jolt – still a high number when you consider there is physical discomfort involved. “The gender difference is probably due to the tendency of men to be higher in sensation-seeking,” the researchers write.

Meanwhile, Lauren Hitchings gives critics of the study a fair hearing:

[T]he results may have been partly down to the artificial set up. For a start, the very nature of letting your mind wander is that it drifts off on its own. Sitting in an experimental setting with an electric-shock generator might not be a fair representation. The set-up, especially the fact that participants were told to sit still, may have made people feel distracted and uncomfortable, says Jonathan Schooler, who studies the wandering mind at the University of California in Santa Barbara. But he does think there is a need to better understand those people who didn’t struggle with the task. After all, much has been made of the benefits of allowing the mind to wander – for instance, it can help to generate creative insights.

John Timmer zooms out:

[T]he results may indicate that, although we complain that we’re persecuted by things like smartphones and the constant barrage of e-mail, we actually may relish the distractions they bring. And, in terms of even broader perspectives, the study brings to mind a quote from Blaise Pascal: “All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room.”