I somehow missed this earlier in the month, but our friends at Boing Boing posted a link to this great little story. It’s about a study performed at the University of Virginia which aimed to measure how good people are at entertaining themselves. The answer? Not so good. From the story:
“They report on 11 experiments. In most, they asked participants to put away any distractions and entertain themselves with their own thoughts for 6 to 15 minutes. Over the first six studies, 58 percent of participants rated the difficulty at or above the midpoint on a scale (“somewhat”), and 42 percent rated their enjoyment below the midpoint. In the seventh study, participants completed the task at home, and 32 percent admitted to cheating by using their phones, listening to music, or doing anything but just sitting there.”
In one experiment, the researchers even gave the participants an option to shock themselves with an electrical device if they wished to. One participant shocked himself 190 times in 15 minutes!
So, why did these people find it so hard to entertain themselves? At least one of the researchers hesitated to blame technology and instead had a theory, unproven as yet, about our hunter-gatherer brains being wired to scan for danger at all times and so not be still and peaceful.
I recently entertained the Beloved by explaining to him what exactly I think about before bed to help me fall asleep. He was stunned that I had to think about anything—apparently, he just lies down and falls asleep—but when he heard how detailed my pre-sleep entertainment was, he was all the more stunned. So I am not convinced about the hunter-gatherer theory—but since I have never had much trouble entertaining myself when I needed to, so I guess I am the outlier in this research.