Cultural Differences in Intentionally-Enjoyed Thought

Author: ORCID icon
Buttrick, Nicholas, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wilson, Timothy, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

In two studies, we find that intentionally enjoying one’s thoughts is difficult cross-culturally, and that the pleasures of thinking seem no better than the thrill of proofreading. In Study 1, we assigned over 2,500 students from 12 sites in 11 countries covering diverse intellectual and religious foundations, to, while in their own homes, either enjoy their thoughts on command or to do an enjoyable solitary activity of their choice. We found no cultural differences in individuals' ability to enjoy their thoughts when asked, and at every site, participants enjoyed doing activities more than thinking. The pattern was constant across all sites, was unexplained by demographics or a set of individual difference measures, and a set of multilevel models showed that country-level differences were negligible. In Study 2, we gave participants repeated choices between intentionally enjoying their thoughts or performing mundane activities, such as proofreading. Using behavioral and rating data, we find that participants are essentially indifferent between thinking and typo-catching. These finding builds on previous work demonstrating the surprising difficulty Americans have with prompted mental enjoyment (Wilson et al., 2014), and we conclude that, while thinking may be enjoyable at times, forcing yourself to think enjoyable thoughts is hard, not particularly enjoyable, and difficult not just for WEIRD (White, Educated, from Industrialized, Rich Democracies) individuals.

MA (Master of Arts)
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