The Benefits of Solitude

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.

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4 Responses to “The Benefits of Solitude”

  1. martin said:

    Good and thought provoking article.

    There is an old joke: How do you tell an extroverted engineer from an introverted engineer? The extroverted engineer looks at your shoes when they talk to you.

    I frequently stare at the floor, in the presence of other people, when I am trying to concentrate. I do this even if I am conversing with those people. The conversation sort of takes on the characteristics of inner dialog. It dramatically lowers the cognitive noise such as non-verbal communication. It ties in well with this sentence from the article:”When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts.”

  2. Morgen Jahnke said:

    Martin:

    That’s a very interesting observation. It makes sense to me that you’re able to think more clearly when you limit external stimuli. I’ll have pay attention to my own habits to see if I do the same thing without realizing it!

  3. Brenda said:

    Hi Morgen,

    Great blog – I’m glad I happened upon it after reading an article on “Interesting Thing of the Day”, and hyperlinking my way here somehow.

    I love the theme and it’s nice to be able to relate and know that I’m not the only introvert around.

    I’ve found that one of the greatest benefits of solitude for me has been indirect – it prompted me to develop my inner resources and emotional self-soothing skills. It was very helpful learning how to help myself during emotionally trying times because sometimes other people cannot (be there to) help.

    Thanks for your blog and I look forward to reading more entries.

  4. Argel Cabrera said:

    Loved the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra!