October 14, 2021

University of Arizona researchers search for meaning behind idle thoughts

The study's results might help physicians diagnose and treat mental illness.

Thoughts Research The study analyzed more than 2,000 thoughts produced at random.
Marco Verch

University of Arizona researchers are following the path our mind travels during our wandering thoughts.

Psychology professor Jessica Andrews-Hanna co-authored a study that asked subjects to say what they were thinking in-the-moment and determining how those thoughts unfold and develop over time.

"Our question was can we determine something about the mental health of different people by capturing those internal thoughts and quantifying certain characteristics of those thoughts?" she said.

Seventy-eight people, mostly college students, took part in the study. They were trained to voice their thoughts aloud for 10 minutes while sitting alone. The researchers found negative patterns of thinking lasted longer than positive thoughts.

The findings also revealed a possible link to pandemic-related behavior.

Study co-author Quentin Raffaelli believes COVID-related isolation combined with idle thoughts led some people to turn to addictive drugs.

“It suggests that a significant portion of the population did not handle the anxiety of the situation, as well as being left alone with their thoughts," he said.

More than 2,000 thoughts were analyzed in the study. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports last month.

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