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Left on your own in the jail of your mind
July 3, 2014 3:26 PM   Subscribe


 


This is why the young should be forced to memorize poetry.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:36 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


this is why one should always carry a nine-volt battery in one's pocket
posted by pyramid termite at 3:38 PM on July 3 [8 favorites]


I hope these researchers considered factors such as the novelty factor of a button you can push when you are left alone in the research lab, even if you know it will shock you.

I mean, you volunteer for a study. Scientists put you in a room with a button. They say that it will shock you again if you push it. Maybe it will do something else. Maybe they want You to push it - you wouldn't want to stop the progress of science, would you? Besides, if it does shock you, it's not like it will kill you or anything. Maybe if I hit the button real fast-

Bzzzzzzzt.

Ow, dammit! What kind of people are you?
posted by chambers at 3:41 PM on July 3 [18 favorites]


“All of man's problems stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone, shocking himself.” -- Blaise Pascal
posted by demonic winged headgear at 3:41 PM on July 3 [36 favorites]


Wilson favors the “scanner hypothesis”: Mammals have evolved to monitor their environments for dangers and opportunities, and so focusing completely internally for several minutes is unnatural. “It would be a little odd to see a chimpanzee posed like Rodin’s thinker for extended periods of time,” he said.
This is really silly. Sure, our ancestors spent a lot of time doing one thing like hunting or gathering while simultaneously keeping an eye out for threats - but they also spent a whole lot of time sitting around in tree tops and dark caves doing absolutely nothing. We're as much evolved for standing still and thinking as we are for being alert.

It's all about what you're used to. If you're continually bombarded, or even overloaded, by complex stimuli, then that will seem normal to you. If you spend long periods of time in quiet contemplation, then that will seem normal. We build environments around ourselves that reinforce these lifestyles, but change the environment and (after a period of sometimes stressful adjustment) the person will change to value a different amount of stimulation.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:44 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


I am quite happy to sit for hours at a time with only my own thoughts for company.

What's WRONG with me?
posted by Splunge at 3:44 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]


They're actually pretty strict about this, though. I write, so I would have no problem entertaining myself with my thoughts for the five or ten minutes they tested people for - but I'd want to have a way to write shit down if I came up with something good, and according to the study they wouldn't even let me have a pencil and paper in the room with me. They even say they accidentally left a pencil and paper in the room and someone started writing something down - a to-do list - and they threw out those results.

I can see not allowing people to use a cell phone or computer or something, but not even a pencil?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:45 PM on July 3


Were these people too embarrassed to fantasize about sex in the middle of the experiment or what? Because I can entertain myself with my own thoughts for HOURS.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:45 PM on July 3 [11 favorites]


It's easier if you're a vampire.

"I don't attach importance to the sunshine anymore...or to glittering fountains, which youth is so fond of. I love the darkness and the shadows. Where I can be alone with my thoughts. I am the descendent of an old family. Time is an abyss, profound as a thousand nights. Centuries come and go...to be unable to grow old is terrible." - Nosferatu
posted by crazylegs at 3:46 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


The effect ? I'll tell you what the effect is - it's pissing me off!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:47 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I hope these researchers considered factors such as the novelty factor of a button you can push when you are left alone in the research lab, even if you know it will shock you.

This is a good point. If you volunteer for an experiment, you're expecting something to happen. Nobody volunteers to aid science by sitting quietly for a while and then going home. And the button is right there, so surely the scientists want you to press it...
posted by Kevin Street at 3:47 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


Damn that smarts.

Oh, I get it. This is where they trick you. I bet if I press it again something cool will happen. Just think, all those suckers who wuss out and never find out you get cool stuff if you press -

Bzzzzzt

Ow! Dammit! Assholes! Yins guys are all assholes! You know what? Screw science and your white lab coats and those silly clipboards.

Hmmph. Put a guy in a box with a button and see what happens... I'll show them...
posted by chambers at 3:49 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]


Electric shocks preferable to being left alone with your own thoughts

I didn't need a study to tell me that. There are times when being beaten with crowbars would be preferable to being left alone with my own brain torturing me.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:52 PM on July 3 [12 favorites]


In other news: mediation sure sounds easy, but isn't.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:53 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


In other other news: SMARTPHONES AND YOUTUBE ARE RUINING US ALL IS LOST
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:55 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


Angry Birds rots the mind
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:55 PM on July 3


Hey, I could totally cultivate a rich inner life if I wanted to, but Candy Crush level 277 ain't gonna clear itself.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:57 PM on July 3 [7 favorites]


To expand on what probably seemed like an extreme thing to say:

When you're depressive and suicidal, being left alone with your own thoughts is the worst thing in the known universe, because there is literally nothing to distract you from that Black Dog barking in the back of your head. Which is why so many of us self-medicate with downers--pot, alcohol, etc; they slow your brain down and stop it, in the short term, from torturing itself. External, physical pain is preferable because a) the endorphins make you feel better (again, short term), and b) because it distracts you by giving you something to focus on. This is why I have a bunch of scars on my body that I didn't have six months ago.

Obviously this is different for neurotypical people. But being left totally alone without distractions, at least at this stage in the healing process, is one of my waking-up-in-cold-sweats nightmares. I guess I'm talking about a minority of people here, but my point is that the results of the study as embodied in the link title are completely unsurprising, I think, to anyone who has experienced severe depression.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:04 PM on July 3 [23 favorites]


I find this really hard to believe. I read somewhere that most people take about half an hour to fall asleep. So, don't the majority of us lie down and let our thoughts wander and amuse ourselves with our imagination every night?

I thought lying quietly thinking in the dark was one of the most pleasurable things in the world...
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:26 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]


I hope that the study was much better than the article suggests, because as stated it proves nothing about the shock button.

I mean, I spend lots of time in my own thoughts. But I would surely press the button a couple more times, just for kicks or self-improvement or masochism or whatnot. I would press the button a couple of more times, whether I was sitting in a bare room with nothing to do, or watching tv, or working, or drinking. I suspect a lot of people would. Or else I'm odd.
posted by sheldman at 4:41 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


I find this really hard to believe. I read somewhere that most people take about half an hour to fall asleep. So, don't the majority of us lie down and let our thoughts wander and amuse ourselves with our imagination every night?

I need something to sort of escort me into sleep - netflix or a book. Anything but letting my thoughts wander for half an hour. Too much anxiety!
posted by marimeko at 4:45 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


The supplementary material. Experimental data.
Participants then read that during the thinking period they “can also experience one of the stimuli (sounds, shock, pictures) you rated earlier, but only if you want to. Different participants may get different stimuli in Part 2.” They were asked to wait a few seconds for the computer to display the stimulus that would be available to them. All participants learned that the electric shock would be available during the thinking period, that they could experience it again if they wanted to , but that “Whether you do so is completely up to you -- it is your choice.”

[From the main text] Many participants elected to receive negative stimulation over no stimulation—especially men: 67% of men (12 of 18) gave themselves at least one shock during the thinking period [range = 0 to 4 shocks, mean (M) = 1.47, SD = 1.46, not including one outlier who administered 190 shocks to himself], compared to 25% of women (6 of 24; range = 0 to 9 shocks, M = 1.00, SD = 2.32). Note that these results only include participants who had reported that they would pay to avoid being shocked again.
I meditate for about 90 minutes a day, and I would have pressed the button once just out of curiosity... The headline"People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts" is pure linkbait.
posted by Coventry at 4:56 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


Electric shocks Bombay Sapphire Martinis preferable to being left alone with your own thoughts, study suggests.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:09 PM on July 3 [6 favorites]


Am I the only one who thought "Don't give the Prison-Industrial Complex any more ideas"...

"No - I'm tasering this prisoner in isolation, because it's preferable to being alone! All you sissy liberals are crying about solitary confinement, here we have research that says we would prefer electric shocks, so here we are, trying to give them some extra stimulation for perfectly good and humane reasons, and you now tell us to quit!!!??? "
posted by symbioid at 5:33 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


I would have pressed the button once just out of curiosity.

The function of the button was demonstrated before the trial began. Curiosity was pre-satisfied.
posted by localroger at 5:39 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I thought lying quietly thinking in the dark was one of the most pleasurable things in the world...

And being shocked is one of the least pleasant. Wtf is wrong with these people?
posted by fshgrl at 5:41 PM on July 3


Being depressed, anxious, and lonely is a particular kind of awful hell for my brain. The lonely part is getting worked on, but the depression and anxiety is something I have lived with my entire life--I am a former cutter who still bears very visible scars from those times--and believe me, if an electric shock administered upon occasion could make those head weasels leave me the fuck alone, I'd probably sign up in a heartbeat.
posted by Kitteh at 5:42 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


Beryl Markham, from her accounts of solo night flights as a bush pilot in West With The Night (amazing book, highly recommended):

You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself. You learn to watch other people, but you never watch yourself because you strive against loneliness. If you read a book, or shuffle a deck of cards, or care for a dog, you are avoiding yourself. The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all. If it were otherwise, men would never have bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have fashioned words out of what were only animal sounds, nor to have crossed continents — each man to see what the other looked like. Being alone in an aeroplane for even so short a time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and your own hands in semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to wonder about but the beliefs, the faces, and the hopes rooted in your mind — such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:44 PM on July 3 [10 favorites]


I need something to sort of escort me into sleep

I think a lot of cases of insomnia stem from this.

Personally, I'm in the "fine with my own thoughts" camp, but I wasn't when I was younger (especially before I turned 30). It's a groove you can get into if it didn't come naturally, and I didn't really practice it by deliberate meditation. It just got to be easier over time.

Wtf is wrong with these people?

If I had to make a wild assed guess I'd suggest that Mr. 190 shocks is a sexual masochist.
posted by localroger at 5:45 PM on July 3


The function of the button was demonstrated before the trial began. Curiosity was pre-satisfied.

I wouldn't have been satisfied by the instructions they gave, because I'd wonder whether they were lying to me.
posted by Coventry at 5:48 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


How large is the button?
posted by user92371 at 5:52 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I hypothesize that a marked increase in the percentage of people who push the button would occur if there were a sign saying DO NOT PUSH THE BUTTON.
posted by Flunkie at 6:14 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


It's really fascinating to see the polarized divide in this thread's comments between "being alone with my thoughts is horrible!!" and "what's such a big deal about sitting quietly for 15 minutes??". I'm in the latter group, so it's quite an awakening to see some of the (VERY strongly felt) reasons given here by the former.

Despite my silly "it's technology's fault!" comments upthread, the study says tech is a symptom rather than a cause; and I don't buy the "scanner hypothesis" suggested in the article either, for the same reasons Kevin Street points out. So what on earth could it be, then? What could cause such a strong aversion in some people to boredom and being alone with their thoughts? Beats the hell out of me, but I'm definitely amazed by the strong dichotomy.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:22 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Research subject behaviour can be pretty strange. I had a coworker in a lab who did some Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) research that measures stress through changes in skin conductivity and once the measuring device had a short and was shocking a research participant. The woman said nothing at all for a 30 minute experiment and then had go to the hospital for treatment for 2nd degree burns. She said she thought it was just part of the study so she went with it.
posted by srboisvert at 6:30 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]


Every night I take a walk precisely to get away from worldly distractions and have some time for my deep, awesome thoughts. (ok, mostly just cliche save the world/get the girl fantasies, but that still beats shocks, no?)
posted by dgaicun at 6:40 PM on July 3




"Being depressed, anxious, and lonely" is pretty much my standard way of being. The reason I have such a rich fantasy life is to get the hell away from that.
posted by SPrintF at 7:12 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


What could cause such a strong aversion in some people to boredom and being alone with their thoughts?

Boredom is just about the worst thing in the world, definitely a stronger motivator than some minor non-injuring physical pain. If I were stuck in a room with nothing to do but play with a button that gave me an electrical shock, you can bet I would play with it. Once I got bored with that, I would probably ramble around the room, looking at every detail, trying to find something, anything, to think about. And eventually I would sink into a frustrated, agitated, fuzzy-headed malaise, as the endlessly hungry analysis-engine in my head started grinding itself up for lack of any other input.

Except that I would never participate in this study to begin with, because I would NOPE the fuck out of there once they explained what they were going to make me do.

I have literally spent 30-40 minutes in a bookstore looking for something to read just so I wouldn't have to spend ten or fifteen minutes alone at a restaurant with nothing to do while I waited for my dinner. Smart phones have made this sort of thing a lot less stressful.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:48 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I thought lying quietly thinking in the dark was one of the most pleasurable things in the world...

If you're neurotypical or on the upside of mood swings, sure. Otherwise? Oh god no. No no no no no.

The headline"People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts" is pure linkbait.

No. It's not. I would absolutely prefer regular electric shocks to being alone without distraction with my thoughts for an extended period of time when I am in a low mood. Like Kitteh, I am a (probably) former cutter, who spent some time recently with cutting being the only way to get my mind not to dwell on a particular situation. I haven't slept with anyone since my ex broke up with me almost four months ago, and in many ways that's due to not wanting to explain the scars that cover my upper arms, my hips, my thighs--all, conveniently, areas that are easy to hide.

I am truly happy for you that you can look at that headline as linkbait. For a large minority of us, it is simply a truism about our day to day lives. Privilege shows up in many ways, and this is one of them.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:39 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


If the subjects were repeatedly shocking themselves, then, sure, I'd buy the conclusion ("I know it hurts, but it's better than being alone with my thoughts"). But the mean number of shocks wasn't 10 or 20 or anything, it was a measly 1.47 times. That's not the behavior of someone who is picking pain over quiet reflection, it's the behavior of someone seeing if what was demonstrated to them before the experiment started was actually true during the experiment.

I know that I would have pushed the button once just based on knowing about the conclusions of the Milgram experiments, etc. and how people tend to believe folks in uniform, position of authority, etc. So I would have thought, "Ok, they've told me it'll shock me, like it did in the pre-experiment demo, but let's see if they're full of shit. OW!! Ok, so it really does shock. Now, time to reverie."
posted by Bugbread at 8:48 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]


Bugbread, I'm guessing--and tell me I'm wrong if I am--that you are in the ranks of the neurotypical. I'd last a few minutes in that situation, and then I'd be pushing that button at shorter and shorter intervals specifically to avoid that reverie. Sometimes that thinking is good. But it's so easy for the Black Dog to take over...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:58 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone is saying that nobody would prefer shocks to reverie. But headlines like "Study finds A to be true" doesn't mean "Study finds A to sometimes occur" but "Study finds A to be true more often than it is untrue". Women make more than men in 7 out of 534 occupations listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Would you be bothered if people characterized an article headlined "Study Finds Women Paid More than Men" to be linkbait?

I mean, I guess if you posit that over 50% of people are not neurotypical, in a way that they'd prefer shocks, it could be true that on the average people prefer shocks over non-shocks, but then wouldn't the median be a lot higher than 1.47?
posted by Bugbread at 9:04 PM on July 3


I want to party with the 190 shocks in 10 minutes guy. You gotta believe he'd know where to score all the good stuff.
posted by Justinian at 9:07 PM on July 3 [3 favorites]


Would you be bothered if people characterized an article headlined "Study Finds Women Paid More than Men" to be linkbait

No. Because that's factually untrue. Try again.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:08 PM on July 3


feckless fecal fear mongering: "No. Because that's factually untrue. Try again."

Yeah, that's kinda my point. That's factually untrue (though there are specific cases where it is true). And this also appears to be factually untrue (though there are specific cases where it is true).
posted by Bugbread at 9:12 PM on July 3


Also, note, I'm saying "appears to be". If there's a better study that backs up these findings, then I'm totally open to changing my mind. The numbers from this experiment don't seem to back up its conclusions. I'd love to see numbers from a better experiment, whether or not they match my current opinion.
posted by Bugbread at 9:14 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I think you're missing the point of what I am saying, but I really don't want to argue. Ok?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:15 PM on July 3


Sure, no problem.
posted by Bugbread at 9:24 PM on July 3


Boredom is just about the worst thing in the world, definitely a stronger motivator than some minor non-injuring physical pain. If I were stuck in a room with nothing to do but play with a button that gave me an electrical shock, you can bet I would play with it. Once I got bored with that, I would probably ramble around the room, looking at every detail, trying to find something, anything, to think about. And eventually I would sink into a frustrated, agitated, fuzzy-headed malaise, as the endlessly hungry analysis-engine in my head started grinding itself up for lack of any other input.

But that's very much my point, because (without putting judgement values on either reaction) your mindset in that situation doesn't match my own by a long shot. The chasm of difference between our responses struck me as fascinatingly large.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:38 PM on July 3


Wilson's report to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology really made me feel like they are make far too many assumptions about what reverie is and isn't. He references Walden's retreat to nature, but fails to acknowledge the vast amount of stimulus and interaction present in an environment like that. He seems to be implying that going out into the woods without any modern technological devices is somehow just as devoid of stimulus as being in an empty room.

Also, he never states what voltage and more importantly, amperage, of the shocks are, and seems to say that there were varying levels - all he says is that it was equivalent to a strong static shock. Also, where was the shock applied to the body? It's an important question to ask, as if you're trying to do behavioral research and start throwing around electric shocks, one should consider a neurological component to the decision making process, that could influence different areas of the brain, or be interpreted by the brain differently. Do the subjects perceive the shocks as a challenge, or as punishment? Does the brain's unconscious reaction agree with the conscious perception of it?

The more I look at this, the messier it gets.
posted by chambers at 9:39 PM on July 3 [2 favorites]


Shocking Stuff!

Sorry, could not resist
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 10:16 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Huh, I can lie in bed with nothing but my own thoughts for easily an hour in the morning, trying to persuade myself to get up and actually do the things that are necessary to going to work. I guess I also have things in the room to look at, and a window to stare out of, but I'm not reading or playing games or anything. So I guess going to work is worse than electric shocks.

However if I am out of the house, for example waiting for a train or someone to meet me or similar, I can only handle a couple of minutes of waiting without doing something else. So perhaps there's a situational component.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:20 PM on July 3


I find it much easier to get bored while doing something than nothing. I'd spend the entire experiment agonising over whether pushing the button or not pushing the button would be the more valuable experience. And as much as I'd benefit from a good zap, I'm sure the 15 minutes on their own wouldn't drive me to seek one out.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:30 PM on July 3


I can always do maths or something in my head, but I'd have probably pressed the button to see what it does. And then pressed it again to see if it was really that bad. So I guess I'd have registered as someone who was scared to be alone with my thoughts, but it would really have been because I like pressing buttons.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:45 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I don't currently mind being alone with my own thoughts, since at the moment I'm doing pretty well for mental health. In bad times past (and maybe in future, though I sincerely hope not), I have hated it -- but often sat, motionless and tormenting myself, for hours at a time anyway. I also quite like electric shocks, so perhaps I would have shocked myself a few times just for the experience.

Actually, sitting alone in a room for fifteen minutes, with the option of either shocking myself or daydreaming, sounds great. I need to get in on some of these studies.
posted by daisyk at 8:04 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]


I love this research. Apparently I am more normal (in this respect) than I thought I was! Literally, when I read the headline ("People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts") I thought, "of course -- wait, everyone is like that?"

I am truly happy for you that you can look at that headline as linkbait. For a large minority of us, it is simply a truism about our day to day lives.

QFT. It's true for me though I feel I'm pretty neurotypical (?). I was similarly relieved when I asked this question and heard how many other people dealt with the same thing.

I somewhat agree with his scanning hypothesis. In fact, I think there are two parts of my mind that are ideally both occupied: the thinking part and the "doing things in the real world" part. I can clean for longer periods of time if I can occupy the thinking part with a podcast, and I can focus better on a phone call if I distract the real-world part of myself with folding laundry.
posted by salvia at 9:24 AM on July 4 [3 favorites]


The function of the button was demonstrated before the trial began. Curiosity was pre-satisfied.

Maybe for you. For others it was another instance of click-bait.
posted by Pudhoho at 4:08 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


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