The joy of Thinking about thinking
People consistently underestimate how much they would enjoy spending time alone with their own thoughts, without anything to distract them, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
In a series of six experiments with a total of 259 participants, the researchers compared people's predictions of how much they would enjoy simply sitting and thinking with their actual experience of doing so. In the first experiment, they asked people to predict how much they would enjoy sitting alone with their thoughts for 20 minutes, without being allowed to do anything distracting such as reading, walking around, or looking at a smartphone. Afterward, participants reported how much they had enjoyed it.
The researchers found that people enjoyed spending time with their thoughts significantly more than they had predicted.
In another experiment, the researchers compared one group of participants' predictions of how much they would enjoy thinking with another group's predictions of how much they would enjoy checking the news on the internet. Again, the researchers found that people underestimated their enjoyment of thinking. The thinking group expected to enjoy the task significantly less than the news-checking group, but afterward, the two groups reported similar enjoyment levels.
These results are especially important in our modern era of information overload and constant access to distractions, according to study co-author Kou Murayama, PhD, of the University of Tübingen in Germany. "It's now extremely easy to 'kill time.' On the bus on your way to work, you can check your phone rather than immerse yourself in your internal free-floating thinking, because you predict thinking will be boring," he said. "However, if that prediction is inaccurate, you are missing an opportunity to positively engage yourself without relying on such stimulation."
That missed opportunity comes at a cost because previous studies have shown that spending time letting your mind wander has some benefits, according to the researchers. It can help people solve problems, enhance their creativity and even help them find meaning in life.
Aya Hatano et. al, "Thinking About Thinking: People Underestimate How Enjoyable and Engaging Just Waiting Is," Journal of Experimental Psychology,28-Jul-2022.
B.Sc Life Sciences, M.Sc Biotechnology, B.Ed