In a review of 11 studies published in Science, participants had their cell phones and other devices taken away for a brief period of time, between six and 15 minutes. They were asked to “free think” for that short duration. In some cases, they were given the choice of doing an activity like reading a book, surfing the internet or listening to music. Others were given the choice of administering an electric shock instead of free-thinking. The majority of people would rather do something else than free-think and many would rather hurt themselves. One study even found that 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women would rather give themselves mild electric shocks than be alone with their thoughts for even a few minutes.
It seemed that most people didn’t enjoy the idea of free-thinking because according to the study, participants simultaneously had to think without planning the subject of their thoughts and in most cases they didn’t enjoy it. According to James Giordano, a neurologist at Georgetown University, this lack of “cognitive intentionality” provides too much freedom and can create discomfort for some.
“It makes people feel like they’re not in control,” says Giordano.