Alone with Our Thoughts: Investigation of Autonomy Supportive Framing as a Driver of Enjoyment During Quiet Time in Solitude.

Nguyen, Weinstein & Deci, 2022.

Sitting alone with one’s thoughts could foster a sense of rest and relaxation, yet many find this activity difficult. In two preregistered experiments (Study 1: n = 266, Study 2: n = 369), we focused on autonomy-supportive and controlling framings of solitude as drivers of motivation for solitude, positive experiences such as enjoyment and relaxation, negative experiences such as frustration and boredom, and negative thoughts like worries and rumination. In Study 1, we found support for one hypothesis that autonomy-supportive instructions to sit alone with thoughts led to greater autonomous motivation for solitude compared to controlling instructions that pressured participants to sit alone. However, the effect of instructions on autonomous motivation was trivial, with a smaller effect observed in Study 2. More importantly, we did not find evidence that our autonomy-supportive instructions meaningfully influenced self-reported measures of participants’ experiences with sitting alone with thoughts, nor both self-reported and behavioral measures intention to be in solitude again. Examination of null effects suggested that most differences between autonomy-supportive and controlling-instruction conditions were likely too small to be practically meaningful. However, some null findings in relation to excitement, relaxation, or frustration during sitting alone with thoughts were equivocal and required larger sample sizes to determine whether there was indeed an absence of effect. Consistent with findings reported by Nguyen et al. (2018), participants displayed drops in high-arousal types of affect and increases in low-arousal types of affect. Future research is needed to explore other factors that influence motivation for solitude and lead people to benefit from the regulatory effects of time spent alone.

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Full reference: Nguyen, T. V., Weinstein, N., & Deci, E. (2022). Alone with our thoughts: investigation of autonomy supportive framing as a driver of enjoyment during quiet time in solitude. Collabra: Psychology, 8(1), 31629.