Help us improve your experience by providing feedback on this. Things get interesting when psychologists take a closer look at boredom. Videos of fish-farm management techniques or men silently hanging laundry probably don't top your Netflix queue. And that's the point. These are some of the tedium-inducing tools that psychologists are using to study boredom in the lab.
Now that's changing, as scientists have begun to take a closer look at this underappreciated emotion. The of their research are anything but dull. Boredom is a universal experience, yet until recently researchers didn't have a go-to definition of the condition.
Never a dull moment
He and his colleagues scoured the scientific literature for theories of boredom and tried to extract the common elements. Then they interviewed hundreds of people about what it feels like to experience that tedious state. They concluded that boredom is best described in terms of attention.
A bored person doesn't just have nothing to do. He or she wants to be stimulated, but is unable, for whatever reason, to connect with his or her environment — a state Eastwood describes as an "unengaged mind" Perspectives on Psychological Science One of the more surprising aspects of Eastwood's definition is that boredom can be associated with both low-arousal and high-arousal states. At times, boredom breeds lethargy — you might even have trouble keeping your eyes open.
In other situations, being bored can lead to an agitated restlessness: think pacing, or constantly tapping your feet. Often, he says, boredom oscillates between the two states.
You might pump yourself up to concentrate on a dreary task, then slip back into listlessness as your focus wavers again. Some of us are more likely than others to suffer the effects of an unengaged mind. Unsurprisingly, given boredom's close connection with attention, people with chronic attention problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder have a high propensity for ennui.
James Danckert, PhD, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, found that people highly prone to boredom perform poorly on tasks that require sustained attention, and are more likely to show increased symptoms of both ADHD and depression Experimental Brain Research Chronic boredom can look a lot like depression, but "they're not the same emotional experience," Danckert says.
Together with Eastwood and other colleagues, he surveyed more than people and found that boredom and depression were highly correlated, but were distinct states Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology More work needs to be done to understand the relationship between these experiences, says Eastwood, but he speculates that boredom may be a risk factor for depression. People with a high sensitivity to reward are also at risk of boredom.
These sensation seekers — such as the skydivers among us — are particularly likely to find the world moves too slowly. At the opposite end of the spectrum, people who are overly sensitive to pain and punishment — such as people with high anxiety — are more likely to withdraw from the world out of self-protection.
They may end up understimulated as a result. Eastwood has also found that people with alexithymia, a condition marked by an inability to identify and describe one's own emotions, are more prone to boredom Personality and Individual Differences In many ways, boredom is a modern luxury. Danckert says, the word "boring" as it's used now didn't even enter common parlance until the industrial revolution gave us time to spare.
In today's electronic world, it's rare to be stuck with absolutely nothing to do. Most of us are bombarded by near-constant stimuli such as tweets, texts and a seemingly limitless supply of cat videos right at our fingertips. But all those diversions don't seem to have alleviated society's collective boredom. The reverse may be true, says Eastwood. Teresa Belton, PhD, a research associate in the school of education and lifelong learning at the University of East Anglia, agrees.
Inshe studied the influence of television on children's storytelling.
Blondes & basketball
She found the main ingredient in children's stories was their own direct experience. She attributed some of the lack of imagination in many stories to children's resorting to TV time when they were bored Media, Culture and Society Given the steep rise in the use of technology since then, she suggests the tendency to alleviate boredom with screen time may have become even more prevalent. Even without a smartphone, tedium is usually temporary.
Eventually you reach the front of the line at the DMV, and even the dullest academic lecture draws to a close. Danckert became interested in boredom while studying patients with severe brain injuries. Being underwhelmed can be problematic for the rest of us as well.
It's correlated with drug abuse, gambling and overeating. Eastwood is studying how tedium affects gambling behavior in the lab. The research is preliminary, he says, but so far it appears that men are more likely to make risky bets when they're bored. There's even evidence that the phrase "bored to death" has some truth to it.
As part of the Whitehall II Study, begun inBritish civil servants answered questions about social determinants of health, including some questions about boredom. They found the people who reported experiencing a great deal of boredom were more likely to die young than those who were more engaged with the world International Journal of Epidemiology The researchers theorize that boredom was probably a proxy for other risk factors, such as drug and alcohol use.
Boredom is also associated with performance detriments, which in some cases can lead to serious problems. On the other hand, boredom can prompt people to move out of tedious routines. Belton recently interviewed people known for their creative success, including an artist, a novelist, a poet and a neuroscientist. The poet took up his craft in middle age after finding himself stuck in a hospital bed for several hours with nothing to do. The only paper he had available was a stack of Post-It Notes, so he began writing poetry, the most practical activity to fit on three square inches. Psychologists' research has also begun to hint at the ways boredom can affect behavior, for better or worse.
How does boredom correlate with life expectancy?
In a study done while he was at the University of Limerick, Van Tilburg and colleagues made participants' eyes glaze over by asking them to copy dull literature references and make repetitive drawings. A control group did the same, but for a much shorter period of time. Afterward the researchers cued participants to retrieve memories.
They found the highly bored people called up more nostalgic memories Emotion In another study, Van Tilburg showed Irish study participants images of clovers and lists of traditional Irish names. When the participants were bored using the same techniques in the study, they responded more positively to these symbols of their national identity. But they were also more antagonistic toward members of an out-group.
When asked to recommend a jail sentence for a hypothetical criminal, the bored subjects were harsher than the non-bored when sentencing a perpetrator said to be of English rather than Irish heritage Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin What that means, Van Tilburg says, is that when people are unengaged, they seek meaning wherever they can — whether that's with a fond recollection from the past or a misguided sense of patriotism.
Van Tilburg's findings could have implications for dealing with boredom in constructive ways. Other researchers are also investigating ways to alleviate monotony, especially in the classroom. Ulrike Nett, PhD, at the University of Konstanz, Germany, and colleagues compared strategies that high school students used to cope with boredom in math class.
Some took a cognitive approach, such as reminding themselves how learning math would help them reach their career goals. Others used an avoidance strategy, such as chatting with friends. As it turned out, the students who took the cognitive approach experienced less boredom than the avoiders Contemporary Educational Psychology PDF, KB Despite these promising starts, don't expect scientists to cure ennui just yet.
COVID resources for psychologists, health-care workers and the public. Visit Resources ». Science Watch Never a dull moment Things get interesting when psychologists take a closer look at boredom. Cite this. Weir, K. Never a dull moment.
Monitor on Psychology44 7.