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Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking

Level 2 l Intermediate
1 Warmer
Are you a person who is easily bored or are you happy to sit and do nothing?

2 Key words
Match the key words with the definitions. Then, find the words in the article to read them in context.
The paragraph numbers are given to help you.
challenge

regardless of
pace

sensation-seeking
tedium

solitude

unbearable

1. an invitation to do something that might be difficult ____________________ (para 1)


2. so extreme that you cannot deal with the feeling ____________________ (para 2)
3. the quality of something that is long and boring ____________________ (para 2)
4. the state of being completely alone ____________________ (para 3)
5. always looking for something exciting to experience ____________________ (para 4)
6. without being affected or influenced by ____________________ (para 6)
7. the speed at which something happens ____________________ (para 7)
cheat

cheer up
lecture

distract
wander

in case
struggle

8. to try hard to do something that you find very difficult ____________________ (para 9)
9. If your mind or thoughts ____________________, you stop concentrating and start thinking about other things,
especially because you are bored. (para 9)
10. to get someones attention and prevent them from concentrating on something ____________________
(para 9)
11. a short phrase used for explaining why you are doing something ____________________ (para 10)
12. to not obey the rules ____________________ (para 11)
13. to make something more interesting ____________________ (para 18)

NEWS LESSONS / Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking / Intermediate

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

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14. a talk to a group of people about a particular subject, especially at a university ____________________
(para 18)

Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking

Level 2 l Intermediate

2 Some found it so unbearable that they took the


safe but alarming opportunity to give themselves
mild electric shocks to break the tedium.
3 Two-thirds of men pressed a button that gave
them a painful shock during a 15-minute period
of solitude.
4 Under the same conditions, a quarter of women
pressed the shock button. The difference,
scientists suspect, is that men are typically more
sensation-seeking than women.
5 The report from psychologists at Virginia and
Harvard Universities tries to answer the question
of why most of us find it so hard to do nothing.
6 In more than 11 separate studies, the researchers
showed that people hated being left to think,
regardless of their age, education, income or the
amount of time they spent on smartphones or
social media.
7 Timothy Wilson, who led the work, said the
findings were not necessarily due to the pace
of modern life or the spread of mobile devices
and social media. Instead, those things might
be popular because of our constant need to do
something rather than nothing.
8 In the first experiments, students were taken
alone, without phones, books or anything to write
with into a room and told to think. The only
rules were that they had to stay seated and not
fall asleep. They were told that they would have
six to 15 minutes alone.
9 The students were questioned when the time
was up. On average, they did not enjoy the
experience. They struggled to concentrate.
Their minds wandered even with nothing to
distract them.

13 But, the most surprising result was yet to come.


To check whether people might actually prefer
something bad to nothing at all, the students
were given the option of giving themselves a mild
electric shock.
14 They had been asked earlier to say how
unpleasant the shocks were, compared to
other options, such as looking at pictures of
cockroaches or hearing the sound of a knife
rubbing against a bottle.
15 All the students chosen for the test said they
would pay to avoid mild electric shocks.
16 To the researchers surprise, 12 of 18 men gave
themselves up to four electric shocks and six of
24 women did the same.
17 The scientists said that the most surprising thing
was that being alone with their thoughts was so
hard for many people that they gave themselves
an electric shock something the participants
had earlier said they would pay to avoid.
18 Jessica Andrews-Hanna at the University of
Colorado said many students would probably
give themselves an electric shock to cheer up a
tedious lecture. But, she says we need to know
more about the motivation of the shockers in
Wilsons study.
19 Imagine a person is told to sit in a chair with
wires attached to their skin and a button that will
deliver a harmless but uncomfortable shock, and
they are told to just sit there with their thoughts,
she said.
20 As they sit there, their mind starts to wander
and it naturally goes to that shock was it really
that bad?

10 In case the unfamiliar setting reduced the ability


to think, the researchers did the experiment again
with people at home.

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014


NEWS LESSONS / Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking / Intermediate

Guardian News and Media 2014


First published in The Guardian, 03/07/14

1 What surprised researchers was not how hard


people found the challenge but how far they
would go to avoid it. The task? To sit in a chair
and do nothing but think.

12 To see if the effect was found only in students,


the scientists tested more than 100 other
people, aged 18 to 77, from a church and a
farmers market. They also disliked being left
to their thoughts.

Ian Sample, science editor


3 July, 2014

11 They got similar results. In fact, people found


the experience even more miserable and
cheated by getting up from their chair or checking
their phones.

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Shocking but true: students prefer jolt


of pain to being made to sit and think

Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking

Level 2 l Intermediate
3 Fact box
What can you remember? Complete the box with facts from the article. Then, read again to check your
answers and to see if you forgot anything.
1.

What was the challenge the


researchers set the students?

2.

What were the rules?

3.

Who carried out the studies?

4.

How many studies were carried out?

5.

Where were they carried out?

6.

Who were the subjects?

7.

How were the volunteers prepared


for the test?

8.

What did they say they would do


to avoid an electric shock?

9.

the results for the male students

10. the results for the female students


11.

the results for the other volunteers

12. the conclusion


13.

the possible connection to use of


mobile devices and social media

4 Related words
Choose the best word to complete each sentence.
think

thoughts

mind

1. Try not to ______________ about anything.


2. Try to empty your ______________.
3. Let your ______________ come and go.
4. Whats on your ______________?
5. What did you ______________ about the film?

NEWS LESSONS / Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking / Intermediate

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

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6. What are your ______________ on the subject?

Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking

Level 2 l Intermediate
5 Questions
Write three questions that you would you like to ask the researchers.
1.
2.
3.
Write three questions that you would you like to ask the students in the study.
1.
2.
3.

6 An interview role-play
Work with a partner or in a group of three. Use your questions from Task 5 as the basis for a short role-play.
Pairs
Student A is a researcher. Student B is a student in the study. A asks B all the questions for the student and B asks
A all the questions for the researcher.
or
Groups of three
Student A is a researcher. Student B is a student in the study. Student C is a journalist. Student C asks students A
and B the questions and makes brief notes of their answers. After the group interviews, all student Cs report back
to the class.

7 Discussion


What information from the article did you find most surprising?
Would you have pressed the electric shock button if you had taken part in the study?
Is it sometimes necessary or important to be able to do nothing but sit and think? Why? Why not?

8 Try it out
Close your eyes and sit and do nothing until your teacher tells you that time is up.

NEWS LESSONS / Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking / Intermediate

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

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Reflection
How long do you think you sat for?
How did it make you feel?

Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking

Level 2 l Intermediate
KEY
1 Warmer

8.

pay money

Teachers note: Extend this into an empathy task by


asking the students to guess how the other students
(and you) would answer the question.

9.

Twelve out of 18 men (two-thirds) gave


themselves electric shocks during the 15
minutes of solitude.

2 Key words

10.

Six out of 24 women (one quarter) gave


themselves electric shocks during the 15
minutes of solitude.

1. challenge
2. unbearable
3. tedium
4. solitude
5. sensation-seeking
6. regardless of
7. pace
8. struggle
9. wander
10. distract
11. in case
12. cheat
13. cheer up
14. lecture

11.

They also disliked being left to their thoughts.

12.

Doing nothing is so unbearable for some


people that they would self-administer a
painful shock to relieve the tedium.

13.

The findings do not necessarily mean that


mobile devices and social media have made
us less able to be still, but, rather, that we
love them so much because we have a
natural urge to always be doing something.
The findings showed that people hated being
left to think regardless of their age, education,
income or the amount of time they spent on
mobile devices or social media.

3 Fact box

4 Related words

Teachers note: Students answers will vary. This is


OK. Get them to work together on this task so that it
becomes a collaborative and communicative exercise.

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

They had to remain seated and awake.

3.

psychologists at Virginia and Harvard


Universities; The work was led by
Timothy Wilson.

4.

more than 11

5.

in a room and, later, in the subjects homes

6.

students and, also, more than 100 other


people, aged 18-77, from a church and a
farmers market

7.

They were shown pictures of cockroaches


or heard the sound of a knife being scraped
against a bottle. They rated these alongside
the unpleasantness of a mild electric shock.

5 Questions
Teachers note: Check the students questions and
correct where necessary before they move on to Task 6.

8 Try it out
Unless you know that your students will be able to
cope extremely well with this task, keep the timing
short perhaps around two minutes. Do not tell
them beforehand how long they should sit with their
eyes closed.

Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014


NEWS LESSONS / Students prefer pain to sitting and thinking / Intermediate

2.

to sit in a chair and do nothing but think for 15


minutes

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1.

think
mind
thoughts
mind
think
thoughts