Why do we feel judgement when we go out by ourselves?

Win Su

When was the last time you were outside in public doing something alone? By doing something, I don’t mean doing chores and running errands. Those are the things we have come to respect as activities that you should do alone. I mean having a meal or going to see a movie.

I personally do not remember the last time I went to see a movie alone or even had a meal by myself outside of my West Campus apartment. Even then, I have this odd fear of doing things alone, as if other people would judge me or believe that I have no one to do these activities with me. I have even passed seeing a movie in the theatre just because no one would go see it with me.

If you do think about it, aren’t movies the type of thing you would want to experience on your own? Isn’t a nice meal in Wayne the type of thing that conversations with someone else would detract from?

Science has come to conclude that human beings are indeed social animals. We are unable to thrive in isolation. Historically speaking, human beings have always lived in groups. Today, we populate large expanses called cities, so that we can be near conveniences and coincidentally, other human beings.

Why is there so much pressure to not be alone? It has escalated to the point where we have to come up with excuses for being alone. One popular excuse I hear is “I like to people watch.” What is wrong with just wanting to be alone with your thoughts?

One of the reasons there is pressure to not be alone is our underlying disposition to establish connections with other human beings. Social skills are some of the most important skills a person can have. It is directly linked to success in job interviews and the effectiveness you have as a friend and even a family member.

However, having the ability to be alone with your thoughts is just as important. A University of Virginia study attempted to see how a person would react to 15 minutes without any distractions, with just themselves and the room. These participants had been given a small electric shock prior to being put in the testing room. During their time in the room, the participants were also given a button to press for the electric shock that they had said they’d pay not to feel again. The study found that 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women chose to self-administer the electric shock, during their 15 minutes in the room. It is shocking, pardon my pun, how much we seem to dislike time alone with our thoughts.

A study done by the University of Illinois found that teenagers who spent more time alone were much less self-conscious. This did not necessarily mean that they were happier in isolation, but they were just less self-conscious, which over the long-term may actually be beneficial to the development of their personality, considering that much of a human being’s personality is formed during the adolescent teenage years.

There are plenty of examples of people craving alone time. Think about overextended parents. They crave chunks of time alone and without responsibility, something not commonly found in their busy schedules. For an example closer to a college student, think about sharing a room with your roommate. Have you ever wanted time in your room to yourself?

There is a Harvard University research study done on children to investigate the effects of multitasking and solitude, led by Bethany Burum. Burum comments that human beings are constantly multitasking in a way that we do not even realize.

When we are in the company of others, our brains are constantly engaging in a thought process trying to understand the people around us. It is that underlying disposition to establish a connection with other people. We constantly are trying to understand “the other person” and position ourselves in a way that makes us seem most relatable and likeable so that we may establish a connection with them. Subconsciously, we are trying to market ourselves as a person they should try to connect with. On the other hand, being alone removes all of those underlying cognitive functions and we are truly ourselves.

Think about this situation for a moment. If you are watching a movie with friends, your reactions and thoughts about the movie would be split between finding points for discussion after the movie and reacting to the movie itself. You wouldn’t truly be thinking about the movie. Your mind would be more focused in thinking about how to discuss the movie after the end.

In a situation where you would be watching a movie alone, the plot twists would shock you, and you would not be thinking about what your two friends sitting beside you are thinking about. You might even walk out thinking about things you wouldn’t have noticed if you weren’t by yourself.

If our mental processes are better when we are alone, then why is being alone so looked down upon? I think it is partially due to us relating the situation of being alone with the feeling of being lonely. The problem is that belief is untrue. Being lonely is a completely different phenomenon than doing something on your own. Society must change its view of what it means to be alone. Doing things on your own is not an act of antisocial behavior—it could be, in fact, a demonstration of a different type of social aptitude, as it involves you knowing how to spend time with your own thoughts.

I would challenge you to try out doing something you normally do with other people by yourself. Instead of going to see a movie with friends, try seeing it alone. Instead of clinging to friends at the Philadelphia Art Museum, take a moment and drift off. You might actually see things that you never noticed.