Despite its silly name and its author’s knee-jerk bias against the unsociable, the recent article The power of lonely from the Boston Globe manages to provide a decent rundown of current research about solitude and its benefits. Among the gems in the article is a quote from Professor Christopher Long, who as a graduate student conducted a study on behalf of the US Forest Service. “Aloneness doesn’t have to be bad…There’s all this research on solitary confinement and sensory deprivation and astronauts and people in Antarctica — and we wanted to say, look, it’s not just about loneliness!”
Also interesting to me was the finding from a study done at Harvard that we may remember things more clearly when we think we are experiencing them alone. Looking to explain this phenomenon, researcher Bethany Burum gives two possible scenarios: one, that we may slack off when we think someone else is doing the same work we are, or two, that the presence of someone else inhibits us from concentrating enough to form higher quality memories. I find this second possibility very intriguing, and also Burum’s assessment that “People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people…We’re multitasking when we’re with other people in a way that we’re not when we just have an experience by ourselves.”
As an introvert, I don’t need to be sold on the benefits of solitude, but it was helpful to read about current thinking on the subject, and to imagine a day when people are exhorted to be more introverted, for their own mental well-being.