September 25, 2023 by Dymphna

T-Bomb: Man takes 190 electric shocks to avoid time alone

Truth Bomb Tuesday: Are we scared of boredom, or is there something darker lurking beneath the surface?

A lot of people struggle to spend time with their thoughts. They crave distractions.

There’s no news there.

But a recent study has shown that people would even prefer to give themselves an electric shock than be stuck in their own heads!

Many people would rather inflict pain on themselves than spend 15 minutes in a room with nothing to do but think, according to a US study.

Researchers at the University of Virginia and Harvard University conducted 11 different experiments to see how people reacted to being asked to spend some time alone.

They offered participants a chance to rate various stimuli, from seeing attractive photographs to the feeling of being given an electric shock about as strong as one that might come from dragging one’s feet on a carpet.

After the participants felt the shock, some even said they would prefer to pay $5 than feel it again.

Then each subject went into a room for 15 minutes of thinking time alone. They were told they had the opportunity to shock themselves, if desired.

“We thought, surely, people wouldn’t shock themselves,” co-author Erin Westgate, a PhD student at the University of Virginia, said.

But two-thirds of the male subjects – 12 out of 18 – gave themselves at least one shock while they were alone.

Most of the men shocked themselves between one and four times, although one “outlier” shocked himself 190 times.

A quarter of the women, six out of 24, decided to shock themselves, each between one and nine times.

All of those who shocked themselves had previously said they would have paid to avoid it.

Westgate said she is still astounded by those findings.

“I think we just vastly underestimated both how hard it is to purposely engage in pleasant thought and how strongly we desire external stimulation from the world around us, even when that stimulation is actively unpleasant.”

This is pretty wild.

But I think they’ve misunderstood their results.

People aren’t afraid of boredom.

They’re afraid of what happens when the distraction stops. 

Some people’s inner monologues can get pretty nasty. Its like there’s an nasty monkey in your head, constantly telling you nasty things.

Some people are afraid of what happens if they slow down and stop. All that undigested feeling bubbles to the top and asserts itself. They keep themselves busy to avoid having to deal with it.

Some people have a sense that there are major elements of their life that aren’t working – their career, their relationship with their partner or kids, their relationship to themselves. They know that if they actually stopped and looked at these things they would see how broken they actually are.

But if you never stop, you never have to deal with it.

So people aren’t afraid of boredom. They’re afraid of the things they don’t let themselves see, hear and feel.

And they’d take an electric shock over them any day of the week.

Even 190 of them!