In 2014, psychologists at the University of Virginia conducted a simple experiment to showcase the power of the human mind. They placed subjects in a room by themselves with no distractions for roughly 10 minutes, letting them be alone with their thoughts. Given the infinite possibilities that our imaginations hold, it aimed to promote the sheer pleasures we can derive from just thinking.
"We thought this would be great. People are so busy that it would give them a chance to slow down, sit quietly and daydream for a few minutes," said Erin Westgate, a young graduate student at the time. "So we started running these studies, and they were complete failures."
It turns out that people hated it. They found the experience so unpleasant, many of them preferred physical pain over the discomfort of boredom. When given the opportunity to self-administer a mild electric shock with a button, 67% of men and 25% of women pressed it at least once to help pass the time. One particularly miserable person shocked himself an incredible 190 times.
These unexpected - and somewhat disturbing - results motivated Westgate to devote her research career to the science of boredom. She wondered how a mundane, almost childlike state could prompt such surprisingly extreme behavior.