I’d like to think that I wouldn’t do it, or that I’d at least be able to last longer than 15 minutes.
But the truth is that I’d be like the majority of men.
I’d trip the switch, give myself the electric shock and spend days afterwards wondering why I did it.
Luckily I didn’t take part in the experiment run by psychologists at Virginia and Harvard Universities, so I’ll never find out (nor do I plan to).
The test, details of which were published last week, was designed to find out why most of us find it difficult to simply sit and do nothing.
As part of their study the researchers picked 100 people and asked each of them to sit in a room and think. Just the subjects, the four walls and contents of their heads.
Left alone with just their thoughts two-thirds of the male subjects, and one-quarter of the female, felt so uncomfortable that they opted for the only distraction available: giving themselves with a mild electric shock.
Or as one of the scientists put it, somewhat depressingly: “Simply being alone with their thoughts was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid”.
Like most people I’d like to think that I am one of those self-contained, focused, individuals who could sit in such a room and happily devised shopping lists or silently hum a tune, without zapping myself.
But could I? My morning commute, for example, sees me sit in an enclosed space for about 15 minutes. And I rarely do it without some distraction, either by way of my iPod or my phone.
I convince myself this time spent checking emails, reading news sites and scanning Twitter is productive. But I still do it on days when I’m not working, or even on vacation.
So perhaps it’s less duty and more distraction. (Something I’m also conscious of in my daily battle for silent time).
In timely coincidence the same day I read of the experiment my wife played me a song called Everyday Robots, written by Damon Albarn.
We are everyday robots on our phones
In the process of getting home
Looking like standing stones
Out there on our own
Which just about sums up the 18.53 from Connolly.
Mind you, I’d never have been aware of this mass distraction crisis unless I’d read of the room test. And where did I do that?
On my iPhone of course, standing on a train, during a 15 minute commute.
Sign me up for a shock therapy.