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By Kaitlyn Dunagan

I have this constant need to be active amidst my inactivity; to create an air of comfort while my brain goes on auto-pilot mode. This nonstop desire of needing something to do, having something to read, watch, or demand my attention made me realize I do not participate in enough self-reflection. Anything but the “now” can bring about unwanted feelings of nervousness but I seldom let silence have my undivided attention long enough to sift through these feelings. Turns out, this craving to “do, do, do” may be a deeply embedded part of our current culture. Here are 4 studies that reveal our society’s struggle with silence.

1. People would rather self-administer a shock instead of being silent for 6-15 minutes.

There was a study done by the University of Virginia where college students were asked to sit in a room for 6-15 minutes and do nothing but think. No cell phones, no music—nothing. Participants were then given the option to self-administer a shock instead of having to continue sitting alone with their thoughts. “Sixty-seven percent of men and 25% of women” decided to do just that.

2. There’s a correlation between traffic noise, aircraft noise and cardiovascular issues.

Even though correlation does not always mean causation, there was a study performed that stated persistent aircraft noise could increase one’s risk of hypertension. The range of health issues that can occur because of “chronic noise” involving an aircraft are not yet fully understood. There is other evidence, however, that states traffic noise has an affect on the cardiovascular system and can “increase the risk of ischemic heart disease, including myocardial infarction.”

3. Silent meditation helps increase levels of attentiveness.

In this study, there were several different groups of mediators. While the participants were performing concentration meditation, functional MRIs were used to assess their brain’s activity and their ability to focus. When distractions were introduced to the participants, both expert and novice mediators had less activation “in regions related to discursive thoughts and emotions and more activation in regions related to inhibition and attention.”

4. Musical stimuli impairs ability to perform

Listening to music before performing a specific task has proven to be a beneficial practice. However, scientists Nick Perham and Joanne Vizard discovered when their participants began to balance music with cognitive tasks (i.e., asking the participants to recall a series of numbers), their ability to perform was impaired. Another study was conducted by Dr. Sarah Ransdell, from Florida Atlantic University revealed that students found it difficult to cope with music while writing. Ransdell discovered that “playing music slowed the students down by an average of 60 words per hour.”

When all is considered, making space for silence could be considered a priority for the mind. Humans have a natural tendency to scan our surroundings, allowing us to engage in the world around us. That being said, silence can welcome transformative experiences for our communities or personal epiphanies that revolutionize the way we think. Most of the world’s greatest leaders in science, art, and other academic pursuits spent a fair amount of their time alone. They stayed in seclusion until they finally found a mental bread crumb that ultimately led to great discoveries. Not without a couple of failures in between, of course, but if it were not for their dedication to a life of sporadic solitude and thought, the human race may have progressed at a slower pace. Cures to diseases may have been found much later and education could have been stagnant.

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