Most of the time, people consistently underestimate how much they would enjoy spending time alone with their own thoughts, without anything to distract them. But a new study found that People really enjoy spending time with their thoughts significantly more than they had predicted.
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.
Study lead author Aya Hatano, PhD, of Kyoto University in Japan, stated that humans have a striking ability to immerse themselves in their own thinking. Noting that their research showed that individuals have difficulty appreciating just how engaging thinking can be, The author said that this could explain why people prefer keeping themselves busy with devices and other distractions, rather than taking a moment for reflection and imagination in daily life.
In the first experiment, the researchers 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. The researchers found that people enjoyed spending time with their thoughts significantly more than they had predicted.
This was quite found in the other experiments experiment in which participants sat in a bare conference room or in a small, dark tented area with no visual stimulation.
In another experiment, they 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. Here 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.
Study co-author Kou Murayama of the University of Tübingen in Germany said that the results are important in modern era of information overload and constant access to distraction.
Noting that people now a days most of the time check the phone rather than immerse in internal free-floating thinking, as they 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,” he said.
Murayama said that letting the mind wander can help people solve problems, enhance their creativity and even help them find meaning in life. “By actively avoiding thinking activities, people may miss these important benefits,” Murayama said.