'Shocking' study: We'd rather be shocked than have quiet time alone

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by Cassidy Quinn, KGW Staff

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Posted on July 9, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 9 at 4:49 PM

How much do you love your phone? Could you spend time without it, by yourself? A new study has some shocking results.

A team of researchers at the University of Virginia found that a lot of us would rather get shocked by electricity than be alone without anything to do.

In the study released in Science magazine last week, lead researcher, psychology professor Timothy D. Wilson, said he wondered what would happen when people had nothing to distract them from themselves.

So he took people and put them in a room by themselves for 15 minutes, with nothing to look at, read, or hear.

In the room with them was a shock machine, thanks to Dr. James Coan, who had a lab with the equipment they needed. Each participant had an electrode attached to his or her ankle, and a button to press to activate it.

According to the Today Show, Wilson said the machine was just a box with a nine-volt battery in it, that could produce a mild shock about the same as a zap of static electricity.

Wilson described the experiment in a presentation for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology back in February. He said they told the participants, "Entertain yourselves with your thoughts, but that button's there if for any reason you want to shock yourself."

The researchers gave them a sample shock before the experiment began, so they knew what to expect. And after the sample shock, most people said they would actually pay not to get shocked again.

Wilson said that before the experiment, part of him thought no one would shock themselves. So the researchers were surprised that a lot of the people hated the alone time so much that they shocked themselves, rather than just sitting with their own thoughts. Especially men - 2/3 of the males gave themselves a shock, while 1/4 of the women did the same.

But the Today article says New York City-based psychotherapist Teri Cole wasn't surprised by the results.

“Being on social media all the time, having your phone be the first thing you do in the morning," said Cole. "People are endlessly self-soothing in the moment."

And psychotherapist Paula Carino believes alone time is very important. She said quiet moments can help us “become much more attuned to the beauty that's right here, rather than escaping into some dopamine-fueled fantasy world.”

Wilson said his research into quiet time has many practical applications, such as finding ways to de-stress when we're sitting frustrated, waiting at the DMV or stuck in traffic.

“One of our goals is to teach people how to use this in their every day lives and enjoy it," he said.

One method Cole and Carino recommend to their clients to calm their minds is meditation. Wilson also pointed out that the people who already practiced meditation had a much easier time during the experiment.

So the next time your phone dies, maybe try meditating, instead of finding the nearest shock machine.