Wandering mind an enjoyable experience, study suggests

Researchers recommend people to put down their devices and let their mind wander as a wandering mind is an enjoyable experience – much more than people generally believe.

According to researchers, people consistently underestimate how much they would enjoy spending time alone with their own thoughts, without anything to distract them, and this is based on six experiments that they carried out on a total of 259 participants. 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. Scientists found that people enjoyed spending time with their thoughts significantly more than they had predicted. This held true across variations of the experiment in which participants sat in a bare conference room or in a small, dark tented area with no visual stimulation; variations in which the thinking period lasted for three minutes or for 20 minutes; and one variation in which the researchers asked people to report on their enjoyment midway through the task instead of after it was over. In every case, participants enjoyed thinking more than they had expected to.

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 researchers.

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.

It is important to note that participants did not rate thinking as an extremely enjoyable task, but simply as more enjoyable than they thought it would be. On average, participants’ enjoyment level was around 3 to 4 on a 7-point scale. Future research should delve into which types of thinking are most enjoyable and motivating.

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