Experts say that although boredom is frequently passed off as something trivial and inconsequential, it can also be a chronic and pervasive stressor that can have significant consequences for health and well-being.
Boredom can be dangerous, and serious accidents can occur when we lose our attention while performing tasks or occupations that require close attention to detail. Examples include accidents that occur when drivers, airplane pilots or medical personnel become bored and disengage.
Boredom can also lead to behavioral consequences associated with impulse control such as overeating and binge eating, drug and alcohol abuse, and problem gambling.
Although common, the scientific study of boredom remains an obscure niche of research, and boredom itself is still poorly understood.
In a new study, psychological scientist Dr. John Eastwood of York University and colleagues at the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo investigated the mental processes that underlie our feelings of boredom.
Their new article is found in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
As a result of the research, Eastwood and colleagues define boredom as “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity,” which arises from failures in one of the brain’s attention networks.
They discovered that people are bored when they:
- have difficulty paying attention to the internal information (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external information (e.g., environmental stimuli) required for participating in satisfying activity;
- are aware of the fact that we’re having difficulty paying attention;
- believe that the environment is responsible for our aversive state (e.g., “this task is boring,” “there is nothing to do”).
Investigators believe a multidisciplinary approach including cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, and clinical psychology will produce a more thorough understanding of boredom and attention—phenomena which are ubiquitous and intimately linked.
Future research will be directed toward the development of new strategies that ease the problems of boredom sufferers and address the potential dangers of cognitive errors that are often associated with boredom.