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People will take pain over being left alone with their thoughts

Given a choice of electric shocks vs. quiet contemplation, some choose shocks

2:00pm, July 3, 2014

THINK NOT  People generally dislike and avoid being alone with their thoughts and in a surprising number of cases prefer mild electric shocks to quiet contemplation, a new study finds.

Most people prefer to do just about anything, including give themselves electric shocks, to avoid thinking quietly for a mere 6 to 15 minutes, researchers say.

“The human mind wants to engage with the world, even, it appears, if that involves pain,” says psychologist Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Thoughts are hard to control and steering them in pleasant directions may be particularly difficult, say Wilson and his colleagues. This finding helps to explain the popularity of meditation and other techniques by which people learn to control their thoughts and find rewards in contemplation, the scientists conclude in the July 4 Science.

Mammalian minds evolved to track external dangers and opportunities, Wilson proposes. Only humans acquired an ability to focus solely on internal thoughts. After earlier proposals that introspection  often feels unpleasant  (

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