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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Michelle Drouin


Department of Psychology

University Affiliation

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne


In our 24-hour society, there is little idle time. Portable electronic devices are gateways to constant distractions, such as texting, social networking, and email. And these devices are addictive; according to recent studies (e.g., Smith, 2012) 11% of American mobile phone users worry they spend too much time on mobile devices, and this number is higher among young adults 18-24 (21%). Sherry Turkle (2011) has suggested that this might affect development profoundly, as adolescents and young adults are tethered to their communication technologies.
In a recent commentary, Shattell (2010) advocated for idle time as a means to prompt deep thought and reflection. Therefore, in our experimental study, we examined whether young adult college students would use idle time for deep thought and how idle time would influence affect. We also measured whether these distractions (i.e., internet and text messaging usage) were related to participants’ self-reported stress, happiness, and positive and negative affect.

Introductory psychology students (N = 263) completed an online survey with questions about internet and text messaging addiction, subjective happiness, perceived stress, and the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS; Watson et al., 1988). Immediately after, they were assigned randomly to one of five conditions: Facebook, text messaging, internet, nothing, or anything except the phone or computer. In each of these conditions, they were asked to spend 15 minutes alone in a comfortable laboratory room doing the activity specified by the condition name. Following the 15 minutes, they were asked to complete the PANAS and also describe in narrative form what they had done during the 15 minutes.

Many participants in the “nothing” and the “anything except the phone or computer” conditions used the 15 minutes to think. They also reported sleeping observing the room, praying, and just sitting. However, these two conditions caused the most dramatic decreases in positive affect. Meanwhile, texting, social networking, and internet usage were not significantly related to stress, happiness, or positive and negative affect; however, text message addiction was significantly and positively related to stress and negative affect and negatively related to happiness.

Enforced idle time did prompt participants to engage in thinking and other relaxing behaviors; however, it also prompted a significantly decrease in positive affect. Perhaps, among today’s college students, idle time is considered wasted time.


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

An Idle Mind is an Unhappy Playground

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