Saturday, July 5, 2014

Could this explain Quaker stagnation?

This is from, originally from a Washington Post story. People would apparently rather give themselves electric shocks than sit with their own thoughts.

One caveat may make this study flawed: More men than women gave themselves repeated electric shocks. I wonder, given the machismo in our society, if the men--and some women-- actually got engaged in testing their pain endurance. In other words, was sitting in silence so odious that they would hurt themselves to avoid it or was sitting in silence not so bad, but less interesting than the  positive reinforcement feedback loop--a proof of masculinity (even in women)--created in withstanding repeated shocks? Were the participants so desperate to avoid their own thoughts they would do anything to escape them--or was the shocking a fascinating test?

"The experiment was simple. All the participants had to do was enter an empty room, sit down, and think for six to 15 minutes. But without a cellphone, a book, or a television screen to stare at, the assignment quickly became too much to handle. In fact, even when individuals were given time to "prepare" for being alone — meaning that they were able to plan what they would think about during their moments of solitude — the participants still "found it hard," Timothy Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study, told The Washington Post. "People didn’t like it much."

So the researchers decided to give each participant the option of doing something else, besides just thinking. But what they came up with wasn’t exactly pleasant because, instead of just sitting there, participants were now also allowed to shock themselves as many times as they liked with a device containing a 9 volt battery. Still, for many, that option seemed like a better deal.
Most of the people who decided to shock themselves did so seven times. These results baffled the researchers. "I mean, no one was going to shock themselves by choice," Wilson, told The Washington Post in reference to his initial position during the conception of the study, published yesterday in Science. One man even gave himself 190 electric shocks over a period of 15 minutes, Wilson told The Atlantic, but his data points weren’t included in the final analysis. "I’m still just puzzled by that."

Still, the fact that they chose to shock themselves at all, on their own, was unexpected. And this had nothing to do with curiosity about what the shocks would feel like, because the researchers made sure that each individual received a shock before the beginning of the session.
Yet, people voluntarily shocking themselves repeatedly wasn’t the only surprise. According to the researchers, men showed a marked preference for the negative stimulation. Out of 24 women, only six decided to shock themselves, but 12 out of the 18 male participants figured electric shocks were worthwhile. This, the researchers hypothesize, might have to do with the fact that men appear to be more willing to take risks for the sake of a intense and complex experiences than women.
The results of this study are tentative, however, and the sample sizes — a total of 11 experiments that included between 40 and 100 university students each — were fairly small, so researchers will need to repeat them. But for now, it would appear that humans, especially men, seem to prefer receiving negative, even painful stimulation, to suffering through the bouts of obligatory "mind-wandering" — which you could also call "boredom," depending on how you want to look at it."

The study was very small too. Yet if people can't bear sitting with their own thoughts--or in the Inner Light--for even a few minutes, this is food for thought. I believe the world desperately needs to get still and sit in the Light, but it may be that we are throwing people who really can't swim into the deep end of the pool without a life preserver when we ask them to jump into an hour of silence. 

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