A recent study suggests that many people would prefer to hurt themselves than spend 15 minutes alone in total solitude and silence, without doing anything. In a series of 11 experiments conducted by researchers from the University of Virginia and Harvard University, 200 people were asked to sit alone in a bare room, without any cell phone or writing materials for 6 to 15 minutes, and to then report back to the researchers to explain what went on in their heads.
57 found it difficult to concentrate and 82 percent reporting that their minds wandered. 50 percent of the research subjects described the experiment as unpleasant, with 32 percent reporting that they had ‘cheated’ during the experiment by listening to music, leaving their chair, or messing with their cell phone. Of course, these were the only ones who admitted to cheating, leaving open the possibility that there were even more who cheated. The researchers reported, therefore, that this was probably an underestimate.
But what about their supposed preference of hurting themselves? Apparently, the researchers found that the participants preferred the unpleasant sound of a scraping knife to not hearing any sound at all. The participants were also given the opportunity to administer various stimuli to themselves, including a shock that was unpleasant enough that many of the researchers said that they would pay 5 dollars to not experience the shock again.
When the research subjects were told that they could shock themselves if they wanted to during their 15 minutes of silence and solitude, 66 percent of the students shocked themselves at least once. Most of the men shocked themselves 2-4 times, with one mean shocking himself an extraordinary 190 times. 6 of the women shocked themselves 1-9 times. The researchers were astounded at how dependent the participants were on experiencing some kind of stimuli rather than sit in total silence and solitude for even 15 minutes. Whether or not this behavior is a product of the digital age, or a relatively innate human trait, however, is hotly disputed.