Capturing the thoughts of an idle mind has offered surprising insights to the researchers from the Department of Psychology, University of Arizona. 78 participants sitting alone in a room with no access to electronic devices or external stimulation, were trained to voice their thoughts for ten minutes while researchers recorded them with audio equipment. The transcribed script was then analyzed to measure patterns of thinking, with a particular focus on ruminative thinking, a pattern of negative thinking about past activities, which can be a symptom of depression. “We were able to witness how some people became trapped in perseverative cycles of thinking," says researcher Andrews-Hanna. “….. it's striking that in just 10 minutes of down time, we can capture thought processes that speak to many different mental health conditions." Some had positive or neutral thoughts about the present and the future, while others had creative thought processes. The study has relevance during these pandemic days where people, left isolated from family and friends, have had to cope with idle time and idle thoughts, with a surge in depression and substance abuse. Getting a handle on our own thought processes and taming our reflexive modes of filling in idle time with the phone or social media, can bring great benefits to our mental health and creativity.

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