Put down your devices! Research shows that people underestimate how enjoyable it is to sit and think

If you’re spending too much time on your smartphone, a new study suggests that putting your device down and simply “taking your mind off it” might actually be more enjoyable.

Japanese researchers instructed volunteers to sit in a room free of distractions such as smartphones for up to 20 minutes.

In several different scenarios, participants underestimated how enjoyable it would be to sit and think without anything to distract them.

The results are important in our age of “information overload” and constant access to distractions, experts say, including pervasive forms of technology.

According to a new study, people consistently overestimate how much they enjoy spending time alone with their own thoughts without distractions (file photo)

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

“People are very capable of thinking for themselves,” says lead author Aya Hatano, Ph.D., of Kyoto University in Japan.


Researchers have listed the top 10 tactics for overcoming smartphone addiction, and the number one priority is turning off smartphone notifications.

The list also changes the phone’s display to “grayscale,” making the display appear black and white, and disables facial recognition as a screen unlock method.

A black and white screen makes smartphones “less appealing” compared to the bright colors offered by app icons like Instagram.

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“Our research shows that people have a hard time understanding how much fun thinking can be.

“This explains why people prefer to be busy with gadgets and other distractions in their daily lives rather than taking time to think and imagine.”

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

The researchers predicted how much people would enjoy just sitting and thinking, comparing it to their current experience.

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

They are not allowed to do anything that distracts them, such as reading, walking, looking at a smartphone or taking a quick nap in the evening.

Participants then reported how much they enjoyed doing nothing but sitting in the chair.

Scientists have found that people like to spend more time than they think.

In all variants of this experiment, whether they sat in a bare conference room or a small dark tent without visual stimulation, or whether they sat for three minutes or 20 minutes.

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

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

In another experiment, researchers compared one group of participants’ predictions of how much they enjoyed thinking about how much they enjoyed checking online news with another group.

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

The researchers pointed out that the participants did not rate meditation as an enjoyable task, but simply that it was more enjoyable than they thought it would be. On average, participants’ enjoyment level was 3 to 4 on a 7-point scale.

The results help the public get rid of their smartphones and “get in a positive relationship” with themselves.

Author Dr Kou Murayama of the University of Reading said: “On the bus ride to work, you may check your phone rather than engage in internal free thinking because you predict that thinking will be boring.”

‘But if that assumption is wrong, you’re missing out on the ability to engage yourself positively by not relying on that kind of incentive.’

Future research could explore the reasons why people underestimate how much they enjoy thinking or which types of thinking are the most enjoyable and motivating.

“Not all thinking is helpful, and in fact some people are prone to a vicious cycle of negative thinking,” Dr. Murayama said.

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

The level of smartphone addiction varies from country to country, with a recent study showing that Chinese citizens, for example, like to sit and think much less than citizens of other countries.

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


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

McGill University researchers used data on smartphone use from nearly 34,000 participants in 24 countries between 2014 and 2020.

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

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

1. China (36.18)

two. Saudi Arabia (35.73)

3. Malaysia (35.43)

4. Brazil (32)

5. South korea (31.62)

6. Iran (31.52)

7. Canada (31.11)

8. Turkey (30.92)

9. Egypt (29.54)

10. Nepal (29.41)

11. Italy (28.82)

12. Australia (28.61)

13. Israel (28.29)

14. Serbia (28.16)

15. Japan (27.71)

16. United Kingdom (27.69)

17. India (27.2)

18. United States (26.68)

19. Romania (25.52)

20. Nigeria (24.73)

21. Belgium (24.24)

22. Switzerland (23.45)

23. France (20.29)

24. Germany (18.44)


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