People consistently underestimate how much they would like to spend time alone with their own thoughts, with nothing to distract them, according to new research (file photo)

Drop off your devices! People underestimate how nice it is to sit and think, study finds

If you’re spending too much time on your smartphone, a new study shows it might be nicer to put your device down and just “let your mind wander”.

Researchers in Japan asked volunteers to sit in a room without any distractions – such as a smartphone – for up to 20 minutes.

During several different scenarios, participants underestimated how nice it would be to sit and think with nothing to distract them.

Experts say the findings are significant in our modern age of “information overload” and constant access to distractions, including ubiquitous forms of technology.

People consistently underestimate how much they would like to spend time alone with their own thoughts, with nothing to distract them, according to new research (file photo)

The new study was conducted by experts from institutions in Japan, in collaboration with the University of Reading.

“Humans have a remarkable ability to immerse themselves in their own thinking,” said study lead author Aya Hatano, PhD, of Kyoto University in Japan.


Researchers have listed the top 10 tactics to reduce smartphone addiction, with disabling smartphone notifications ranked number one.

The list also includes changing the phone’s display to “grayscale” so that the display appears black and white, and disabling facial recognition as the screen unlock method.

A black and white screen makes smartphones “less rewarding” to look at compared to the bright colors offered by app icons such as Instagram.

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“Our research suggests that individuals struggle to appreciate how engaging thought can be.

“This could explain why people prefer to deal with devices and other distractions, rather than taking a moment of reflection and imagination in everyday life.”

The team conducted a series of six experiments with a total of 259 participants, all students from Japan or the UK.

The researchers compared people’s predictions of how happy they would be to just sit and think with their actual experience of doing so.

In the first experiment, they asked people to predict how much they would like to sit alone with their thoughts for 20 minutes.

They weren’t allowed to do anything distracting, like reading, taking a walk, looking at a smartphone, or taking a nap in the evening.

Afterwards, participants commented on how much they enjoyed doing nothing but just sitting in their chairs.

The researchers found that people enjoyed spending time with their thoughts much more than they had intended.

This was found to be true in all variants of the experiment – whether they sat in a bare conference room or in a small dark tent area with no visual stimulation, or whether they sat for three minutes or for 20 minutes.

Pictured is the experimental setup - a bare conference room (left) and a small dark tent area with no visual stimulation (right)

Pictured is the experimental setup – a bare conference room (left) and a small dark tent area with no visual stimulation (right)

In another experiment, the researchers compared one group of participants’ predictions about how much they would enjoy thinking with another group’s predictions about how much they would enjoy reading the news on the Internet.

The focus group expected to enjoy the task significantly less than the information-checking group, but afterward both groups reported similar levels of enjoyment.

The researchers pointed out that the participants did not find thinking to be an extremely enjoyable task, but simply more enjoyable than they thought. On average, participants’ level of enjoyment was around 3 to 4 on a 7-point scale.

The findings could help the public disengage from their smartphones and “positively engage” with themselves.

“On the bus on the way to work, you may check your phone rather than immersing yourself in your floating internal thought, as you predict the thought will be boring,” said study co-author Dr Kou Murayama. at the University of Reading.

“However, if that prediction is inaccurate, you are missing an opportunity to positively engage without relying on such stimulation.”

Future research could explore why people underestimate how much they will enjoy thinking, or what kinds of thinking are most enjoyable and motivating.

“Not all thoughts are inherently rewarding, and in fact some people are prone to vicious cycles of negative thinking,” Dr. Murayama said.

The findings also need to be replicated in more diverse populations than the current study, in which all participants were from Japan or the UK.

According to a recent study, different countries have different levels of smartphone addiction, so it’s possible that Chinese citizens, for example, like to sit and think much less than citizens of other countries.

The new study was published today in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.


A recent study revealed the countries with the highest rates of smartphone addiction – and surprisingly the UK doesn’t even make the top 10.

Researchers at McGill University used data on smartphone usage between 2014 and 2020 from nearly 34,000 participants in 24 countries around the world.

China, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia had the highest smartphone usage rates, they found, while Germany and France had the lowest.

Surprisingly, the UK only ranked 16th out of 24 nations, while the US was even further behind, ranked 18th.

1. China (36.18)

2. Saudi Arabia (35.73)

3. Malaysia (35.43)

4. Brazil (32)

5. South Korea (31.62)

6. Iran (31.52)

seven. Canada (31.11)

8. Turkey (30.92)

9. Egypt (29.54)

ten. Nepal (29.41)

11. Italy (28.82)

1 2. Australia (28.61)

13. Israel (28.29)

14. Serbia (28.16)

15th. Japan (27.71)

16. UK (27.69)

17. India (27.2)

18. United States (26.68)

19. Romania (25.52)

20. Nigeria (24.73)

21. Belgium (24.24)

22. Swiss (11:45 p.m.)

23. France (20.29)

24. Germany (18.44)

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