Is it healthy to let your mind wander?

Do you like spending time alone?

In a series of six experiments with a total of 259 participants, researchers compared people’s predictions of how much they would enjoy just 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 thinking for 20 minutes without being allowed to do anything that distracts them like reading, going for a walk or looking at smartphone. The participants then reported how much they liked it.

The researchers found that People enjoyed spending time on their thoughts significantly more than they had anticipated. This holds true for variations of the experiment, in which participants sit in a bare meeting room or in a small, dark tent area with no visual stimuli; variations in which the thinking period lasts for three minutes or for 20 minutes; and a variation in which the researchers asked people to report their enjoyment midway through rather than after it was over. In any case, the participants enjoyed thinking more than they expected.

In another experiment, researchers compared one group of participants’ predictions about how much they liked to think with another group’s predictions about how much they liked checking news on the internet. Again, the researchers found that people underestimate their enjoyment of thinking. The thinking group was expected to enjoy the work significantly less than the group that checked the news, but then, the two groups reported similar levels of enjoyment.

According to study co-author Kou Murayama, PhD at the University of Tübingen, Germany, these results are especially important in our modern era of information overload and potential for constant distractions. . “It’s super easy to ‘kill time’ now.” On the bus on your way to work, you might check your phone rather than wallow in thoughts that are free-floating inside, because you guess thinking will be boring,” he said. If that guess is incorrect, you’re missing out on an opportunity to engage positively with yourself without relying on such stimulation.”

That missed opportunity comes at a cost because previous studies have shown that taking time to let your mind wander has several benefits, according to the researchers. It can help people solve problems, enhance their creativity, and even help them find meaning in life. “By actively avoiding thought activities, people may miss out on these important benefits,” says Murayama.

It’s important to note that the participants did not rate thinking as an extremely interesting task, but simply as more interesting than they thought it would be, according to Murayama.

On average, participants’ enjoyment levels ranged from 3 to 4 on a 7-point scale. According to Murayama, future research should delve into what types of thinking are most interesting and motivating. “Not all thoughts are intrinsically beneficial, and in fact, some people are susceptible to vicious cycles of negative thinking,” he says.

According to the researchers, future research should also explore why people underestimate how enjoyable it is to think. The results also need to be replicated in more diverse populations than in the present study, where all participants were university students in Japan or the United Kingdom.

Source: Eurekalert

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