Shocking Distractions: A World Without Daydreams

Being able to disengage mentally is crucial to mental health. Can you?

Sixty-seven percent of men and 25 percent of women are shockingly distracted. Or at least they’d rather be.

According to a series of studies by University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, two out of three men elected to shock themselves rather than be alone with their thoughts for six to 15 minutes. SHOCK. THEMSELVES.

Researchers had subjects attempt to sit quietly alone. No cell phones, radios, TVs or any other distractions. There was also a device the subjects could use to shock themselves. The research team’s findings recently appeared in Science.

Rather than thinking or daydreaming for the relatively short period of time, a bunch of the men took the juice. And one out of four women opted for the same jolting distraction. The current wasn’t very powerful – the device was built around a simple 9-volt battery – but strong or weak, an electric shock is not pleasant.

A press release on the UVA website quotes the investigators’ report. “What is striking,” they wrote, “is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock….”  Zzzzzzzzzzzip.

Striking. Yes. But upon further consideration – something that many people apparently simply cannot bear – perhaps it’s not so surprising.

We are a distracted bunch, we humans of the 2000s, and we’re becoming more so every day. There’s also the fact that, as a social species, we’re hardwired to seek out others. We don’t like to be alone, active thought is a bit scary, and non-active thought – letting the mind wander – seems to be a problem, too.

When I say “we,” I don’t mean me. Aside from my wife and children, there’s no one I’d rather spend time with than myself. Maybe that makes me self-absorbed or weird or kinda crazy. Think what you like, I like to be on my own to think. And read, write and dream.

From where I’m sitting (alone) people who would shock themselves rather than ponder are the crazies. But before judging too harshly, I put myself in their electric chairs. How long does it take for me to reach for my cell and its connections to texts, emails, Facebook, Twitter when there are no other distractions around? Could I go 15 minutes? If I really tried hard, I think so. But I can’t be sure.

One thing I can say for sure, though. No way I’m self-administering electric current.

Washington Post blog post about the study’s findings quotes Jonathan Smallwood, a professor of psychology at the University of York, “…who said that being able to disengage mentally is an important attribute. ‘It allows us to think about information that is not in the environment,’ Smallwood said.” The post went on to paraphrase the doctor in saying, “The ability to let the mind wander has been linked to greater working memory and increased creativity.”

Better memory? More creativity? Sign me up.

Oh….ZAP…

Guess I’ll have to do that on my own.

Martin C. Fredricks IV logo

Author: Martin C. Fredricks IV

Martin C. “Red” Fredricks IV here. I’m husband to an amazing woman who is also my best friend, dad to three outstanding kids, proud Fargoan (North Dakota, that is), veteran messaging strategist/copywriter, blogger and big-time reader. (If you're gonna write good stuff, you have to read good stuff.) A ginger, too (ergo the "Red"). At age 50 I'm a newbie to tattoos - I have three now - but the kind artists at the parlor tell me it's never too late. I like hanging out with my best friend, who also happens to be my wife, watching the kids in their academic and athletic activities, writing, hiking and riding my mountain bike.

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