Why Is It So Hard for Us to Do Nothing?

The Wall Street Journal:

It is summer time, and the living is easy. You can, at last, indulge in what is surely the most enjoyable of human activities—doing absolutely nothing. But is doing nothing really enjoyable? A new study in the journal Science shows that many people would rather get an electric shock than just sit and think.

Neuroscientists have inadvertently discovered a lot about doing nothing. In brain-imaging studies, people lie in a confined metal tube feeling bored as they wait for the actual experiment to start. Fortuitously, neuroscientists discovered that this tedium was associated with a distinctive pattern of brain activity. It turns out that when we do nothing, many parts of the brain that underpin complex kinds of thinking light up.

But is it fun? Psychologist Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia and his colleagues asked college students to sit for 15 minutes in a plain room doing nothing but thinking. The researchers also asked them to record how well they concentrated and how much they enjoyed doing it. Most of the students reported that they couldn’t concentrate; half of them actively disliked the experience.

Maybe that was because of what they thought about. “Rumination”—brooding on unpleasant experiences, like the guy who snubbed you—can lead to depression, even clinical depression. But the researchers found no difference based on whether people recorded positive or negative thoughts.

Read the whole story: The Wall Street Journal

Leave a comment below and continue the conversation.

Comments

Leave a comment.

Comments go live after a short delay. Thank you for contributing.

(required)

(required)