Thursday, January 3, 2008


Gosline, A. (December 2007.) Bored?, Scientific American Mind.

This article suggests boredom is not merely the result of circumstance. Instead, it may also be affected by emotional factors, personality traits, and attention. It may also come in many varieties, ranging from situational boredom to pathological boredom. People who are predisposed to boredom are more likely to suffer from ills such as depression and drug addiction; they also tend to be socially awkward and poor performers at school or work. A Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS), developed by Richard Farmer at the University of Oregon, may help clinicians to identify boredom as a component of other ailments.

Boredom is complicated, but what we have learned from research suggests low arousal and insufficient motivation both play critical roles in this cognitive state. Men are more likely to be bothered by boredom than women. "Men are more likely to say, ‘There is not enough stuff coming through the environment, and that’s why I am bored.’" Similarly, extroverts seem to be more susceptible, requiring a constant and changing supply of stimulation to achieve optimal arousal levels.

Boredom may also be related to the struggle to maintain attention, a pathological inability to focus. Scores on the BPS were correlated with measures for adult ADHD. A chronic inability to focus on activities may render them effectively meaningless. Psychologist Al Cheyne goes so far as to say, "Attention is the common link between lack of meaning, depression and boredom." Others describe boredom as the antithesis of 'flow' (when a person's skills match the challenge presented by the environment). Tasks that are too easy are quickly boring.

Emotional factors may also play a part. Obsessive mood monitoring seems to detract from intense concentration and thus full engagement in the activity at hand. And boredom can arise from an inability to identify activities that will lead to personal happiness and fulfillment. An inability to know what will make you happy can lead to a more profound existential ennui arising from a pervasive sense of meaninglessness. Existential boredom might also occur when a person abandons important drives, desires, and life goals. Thus, being bored is a form of disengagement from the world.

The article suggests methods of combating boredom on all of these axes. Changing jobs or the complexity of tasks, beginning new hobbies and interests, developing inner skills for stimulation, and being more mindful of the beauty of self and surroundings may all help.

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