Psychology research has tended to portray solitude as a negative experience.
Studies conducted in the 1970s and 1990s suggested that people felt less happy when alone as compared to being with others.
However, a new paper shows an alternative view of solitude, one in which solitude can be positive.
Let's start by looking at the earlier research.
It had a couple of shortcomings.
First, it measured emotion on a scale from positive to negative, overlooking the possibility that our positive and negative emotions can fluctuate independently.
Also, it categorized emotions as simply positive or negative.
It didn't consider that emotions arouse us to different degrees, and that both positive and negative emotions can arouse us a lot or a little.
That is, whether positive or negative, emotions can be either high-arousal or low arousal.
High-arousal emotions include excitement on the positive side or anger on the negative side, while low arousal ones include feeling calm on the positive side or lonely on the negative.
This new research attempted to overcome these shortcomings.
Researchers began with a simple study.
They asked participants to spend 15 minutes sitting alone without engaging in any activity, and measured how this solitude influences their emotional state.
This experiment specifically aimed to determine the effect of solitude on high-arousal emotions.
It looked at positive emotions such as being excited or interested, and negative emotions including being scared or distressed.
The results were clear.
After 15 minutes of solitude, the participants showed reductions in both types of emotion.
A second study measured the effects of solitude on low- arousal emotions.
These included both positive and negative emotions, such as feeling calm, relaxed, sad or lonely.
That experiment found that all of these: emotions were increased by time alone.
Thus it seems past depictions of solitude were wrong.
It doesn't have a simple emotional effect that can be characterized as good or bad.
Rather, it changes the intensity of our inner experience.
It amplifies quieter emotions, but it diminishes the intensity of stronger feelings.
It's worth clarifying that these findings relate to relatively brief periods of solitude.
This is distinct from prolonged loneliness.
Research has demonstrated that the latter is correlated with an assortment of negative physical and psychological effects.
How can people benefit from being alone?
The findings here suggest that people can use solitude to regulate their emotions.
Solitude can help us become quiet after excitement, calm after an angry episode, or simply feel at peace.
Questions 16 to 18 are based on the recording you have just heard.
Question 16: What is one of the criticisms directed at the early research(on solitude?
Question 17: What do we learn about the results of the new research?
Question 18: What did the second experiment in the new research find about solitude?