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Boredom is frequently considered inconsequential and has received relatively little research attention. We argue that boredom has important implications for human functioning, based on emotion theory and empirical evidence. Specifically, we argue that boredom motivates pursuit of new goals when the previous goal is no longer beneficial. Exploring alternate goals and experiences allows the attainment of goals that might be missed if people fail to reengage. Similar to other discrete emotions, we propose that boredom has specific and unique impacts on behavior, cognition, experience and physiology. Consistent with a broader argument that boredom encourages the behavioral pursuit of alternative goals, we argue that, while bored, attention to the current task is reduced, the experience of boredom is negative and aversive, and that boredom increases autonomic arousal to ready the pursuit of alternatives. By motivating desire for change from the current state, boredom increases opportunities to attain social, cognitive, emotional and experiential stimulation that could have been missed. We review the limited extant literature to support these claims, and call for more experimental boredom research.
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Behav. Sci. 2013, 3, 459472; doi:10.3390/bs3030459
behavioral
sciences
ISSN 2076-328X
www.mdpi.com/journal/behavsci/
Review
On the Function of Boredom
Shane W. Bench and Heather C. Lench*
Department of Psychology, Texas A&M University, 4235 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843, USA;
E-Mail: swbench@gmail.com
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail: hlench@tamu.edu;
Tel.: +1-979-845-0377; Fax: +1-979-845-4727.
Received: 16 June 2013; in revised form: 3 August 2013 / Accepted: 8 August 2013 /
Published: 15 August 2013
Abstract: Boredom is frequently considered inconsequential and has received relatively
little research attention. We argue that boredom has important implications for human
functioning, based on emotion theory and empirical evidence. Specifically, we argue that
boredom motivates pursuit of new goals when the previous goal is no longer beneficial.
Exploring alternate goals and experiences allows the attainment of goals that might be
missed if people fail to reengage. Similar to other discrete emotions, we propose that
boredom has specific and unique impacts on behavior, cognition, experience and
physiology. Consistent with a broader argument that boredom encourages the behavioral
pursuit of alternative goals, we argue that, while bored, attention to the current task is
reduced, the experience of boredom is negative and aversive, and that boredom increases
autonomic arousal to ready the pursuit of alternatives. By motivating desire for change
from the current state, boredom increases opportunities to attain social, cognitive,
emotional and experiential stimulation that could have been missed. We review the limited
extant literature to support these claims, and call for more experimental boredom research.
Keywords: boredom; emotion; functional accounts; negative emotion; discrete emotion
Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went
down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look
down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked
OPEN ACCESS
Behav. Sci. 2013, 3 460
at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves; here
and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs. Lewis Carroll ([1], pp. 1011)
1. Introduction
In the classic story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice chases a white rabbit down a well and
then begins a long fall. While falling, Alice‘s attention shifts frequently. Alice begins by considering
what is beneath her (the outcome of her fall). Next, she notices the cupboards surrounding her, and
even interacts with them. She then considers how she will relate this fall to other everyday falls, and
eventually simulates the conversations she will have with the people she meets on the other side of the
Earth. Alice does not remain afraid and focused on the outcome of her fall (what is beneath her). While
this example is fictional and caricatured, it reflects a truth about every day emotional experiencethe
intensity of all emotions fades over time and attention shifts to novel stimuli. What motivates people to
seek out new goals as previous experiences fade? We propose that as the intensity of an emotional
experience diminishes, the emotional state of boredom will encourage people to pursue alternate goals
and experiences, including experiences likely to elicit negative emotions.
The experience of boredom is ubiquitous and occurs frequently in daily life across a variety of
cultures [25]. Although the experience of boredom is common, and has been a topic of scientific
interest since the ancient Greeks [6], defining boredom has proven a difficult task, in part because it is
not clear why people experience boredom. Researchers have defined boredom according to several
different outcomes associated with boredom, including arousal [7], attention [2], meaning of the
current situation [811], and cognition [12]. Perhaps the most widely used definition of boredom is
―the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity‖ ([2], p. 482). In
modern psychology, boredom has been considered largely inconsequential for human functioninga
fleeting state that results from monotonous tasks or limited external stimulation [13]. However, the
sheer frequency with which boredom is experienced across individuals and cultures suggests that the
state may be important for human functioning. Further, a growing body of research suggests that
boredom proneness (trait boredom) has important implications for a multitude of real world outcomes.
Trait boredom has been linked to gambling [14], drug and alcohol abuse [15,16], binge eating [17],
dropping out of school [18] and depression and anxiety [16,19] (see [2] and [20] for reviews). Although
this work is based on findings regarding trait boredom (the tendency to experience boredom), and
these findings have informed our proposal, it is important to note that trait and state boredom may be
quite different [20], similar to other emotions in which trait and state emotions are qualitatively
different [21,22]. We build on these findings to argue that boredom serves a functional purpose.
While applied and clinical research on trait boredom appears to be growing, relatively little
experimental work has focused on the effects of state boredom. In fact, a recent meta-analysis revealed
510 articles that dealt with the impact of happiness, sadness, anxiety, or anger [23], approximately 128
articles per emotion, but a similar search revealed only 12 articles detailing experimental studies
focused on the impact of boredom (see [23] for search criteria). The purpose of this paper was to
propose a function of boredom through review of relevant research, and encourage further
experimental work to support this claim. Our proposal is guided by work on the trait of boredom
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proneness and the relatively little experimental research that has focused on boredom; however, our
intention was not to review the boredom literature, but to provide predictions to guide future empirical
work. Specifically, we suggest that, although usually short-lived like other emotions, boredom is a
commonly experienced functional emotional state that encourages the pursuit of alternative goals and
experiences. We employ adaptive theories of emotion to integrate existent research on boredom and to
propose new avenues for empirical work on boredom.
2. Adaptive Theories of Emotion
Functional accounts of emotion argue that emotions arise from specific environmental conditions or
problems, and serve to organize responses to those conditions [2428]. Generally, emotions reflect the
current status of progress toward a goal and give information about how well or poorly one is doing.
Specifically, emotions indicate the status of goals, and cause changes in systems to enable goal
directed behavior [29,30]. For instance, happiness is an indication of the success of a goal [23,31,32],
anger signals a goal has been failed, but has a chance to be reinstated [23,33], sadness indicates goal
failure with no hope for recovery [23,33,34], and anxiety is due to anticipated threat to important
goals [23,33]. Thus, according to this perspective, each specific emotion signals that individuals need
to take some action to attain goals or avoid negative outcomes.
In addition to unique environmental precursors, these accounts typically posit that discrete emotions
are associated with changes in behavior, cognition, experience, and physiology. For example, anxiety
engenders behaviors intended to avoid threats, cognitions that highlight threats and coping, the
subjective experience of anxiety and threat, and physiological changes that prepare the organism for
self-preservation. A recent meta-analysis supported the general claim that discrete emotions (i.e.,
happiness, sadness, anger, anxiety) are correlated with changes across these outcomes [23].
Although each emotion (happiness, sadness, anger, and anxiety) signals that action is needed to
accomplish goals in a functional account of emotion, these models do not indicate when or why people
will disengage from current goal pursuits. The models include the possibility that extreme sadness,
indicating that a goal is irrevocably lost (e.g., a loved one has died), might result in goal switching.
Other than this, though, it is not clear when or why people will take up new goals, which, according to
qualitative evidence, people do frequently [35,36]. We propose that, as the intensity of emotional
responses fades during goal pursuit, boredom acts as an emotional signal that current goal pursuits
should be abandoned and that new goals should be actively selected and pursued.
3. Boredom as an Emotion
Previous theoretical work has proposed that boredom is a discrete emotion [811,20,3741].
Building on this previous work, we rely on an adaptive theory of emotion to propose that perception of
specific situational factors will result in the experience of boredom and associated responses [30,32,42,43].
Specifically, we argue that boredom arises from the perception that the current situation is no longer
stimulating, as reflected in diminishing emotional response to the situation. Boredom then organizes
responses to this situation that encourage people to seek alternative goals and experiences, even if
those experiences might result in negative emotions. Functional accounts of emotion hold that
emotions indicate the status of goals [29,30], and, similarly, we argue that boredom reflects the status
Behav. Sci. 2013, 3 462
of goals. We propose that the goal associated with boredom is the importance of persistence toward a
current goal. Working toward a goal elicits emotional states. As this affective experience begins to
weaken, the benefit of persistence towards the goal also reduces, as one is no longer succeeding or
failing at the same rate, and as a result, an alternative goal has the potential for greater reward.
Boredom is the emotional indication to pursue an alternative goal. Indeed, recent theoretical and
experimental work have proposed that boredom facilitates pursuit of activities that increase the
perception of meaning [811], and this is consistent with the idea that boredom facilitates the pursuit
of alternative goals when current goals are not fulfilling.
It is well known that emotions fade over time [4446] (see [47] for a review), becoming less
intense. Once a goal is accomplished (happiness), blocked (anger), threatened (anxiety), or lost
(sadness), and has been in such a state long enough for the emotional response to begin to fade, we
suggest that the emotional system signals that it is time to move on to other pursuits. Boredom, we
propose, is that signal. Boredom would occur as intense or weak reactions fade. The time required for
boredom to ensue would be determined by the duration of a reaction. Consider, for example, the
experience of happiness after a goal is attained [31]. Depending on how important the goal was, one
might spend a short time (e.g., after being gifted a balloon) or a long time (e.g., after marrying a soul
mate) basking in the happiness created by accomplishing that goal. But even emotional responses to
important events are short-lived [24], and affective intensity reduces with time and exposure [44], so
the state of happiness would not persist indefinitely. After a honeymoon, eventually the intensity of
happiness would fade, boredom with lounging around and communicating with one person would
begin to intrude, and other goal pursuits would be taken up (e.g., returning to work). Even the
experience of intense fear caused by a potential threat to life could fade as the threat persists, shifting
attention to other concerns. Consider, for example, a skydiver that initially feels mind-numbing fear as
they begin to fall. As the fall persists, the skydivers experience may become similar to Alice‘s fall
down the well - they begin to notice their surroundings, perhaps the beautiful view and perspective that
this position affords. We do not argue that one would necessarily experience boredom in this situation,
but rather believe this common experience illustrates how attention can shift as emotional intensity
begins to fade, even for very intense emotion. Because emotions are part and parcel of effective goal
pursuit, there would be no motivation to pursue new goals if emotions did not fade over time, allowing
for disengagement from that goal. That is, an emotional state is only functional if it ceases to persist.
Always being happy, angry, sad or afraid about the same goal would have little adaptive value. As the
intensity of these (and other) emotions begins to subside, boredom arises to indicate a new goal should
be pursued and motivate responses to switch goals.
Importantly, boredom does not discriminate the valence of a goal that should be switched to, it
simply encourages changing to a new goal. We propose that, because boredom motivates a desire for
change, the specific goal that is desired would be dependent upon the current state. That is, reference
points would determine the goal that boredom motivates, as the desirable goal would be one that is
different from the current situation. Due to this, boredom could encourage changes that result in
negative emotion, such as looking attentively at an animal corpse on the side of road during a long
drive. Boredom could even motivate goals that result in actual risk, such as high stakes gambling or
sex with multiple partners. While pursuing negative outcomes and emotions (ant-hedonic behaviors) is
in many ways maladaptive, there may be some benefits as well. Anti-hedonism permits the attainment
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of opportunities that would have otherwise been missed [48]. For example, gambling provides a high
probability of loss, but can also provide fast and easy gains. Without gambling there is no chance of
experiencing the probable loss, but there is also no chance of attaining the gain. Similarly, unprotected
sex with multiple partners increases the chance of sexually transmitted infection, but it also increases
the chance of conception and reproduction. There may also be benefit to exploration. If a violent river
has never been crossed due to extreme danger, there is no way of knowing what potential gains are
available on the other side of the river. These situations entail probable negative emotions, but also the
chance for gains and for information about the environment. Anti-hedonism allows for the attainment
of possible gains that would otherwise be overlooked. This proposed function is based on an adaptive
account of emotion; future research is needed to investigate these claims.
The function that we propose for boredom is somewhat similar to that proposed for other negative
emotions that encourage goal pursuit, most notably anger and frustration [29]. We argue that boredom
is motivating and encourages action towards a new goal as emotional intensity fades. Anger and
frustration have been proposed to also motivate action to attain goals, particularly when one is
relatively close to goal attainment. However, the environmental conditions that result in boredom and
anger are actually quite different, and the responses to those conditions are also different. Anger results
when an identified object or person is blocking a specific recognized goal, but a chance to attain the
goal remains [49,50]. For example, a person might be angry if while rushing to a meeting they are
slowed by unexpected traffic. In this example the goal would be making it to the meeting on time, and
the object blocking the goal would be the traffic. Boredom, in contrast, does not require a clearly
identifiable goal (beyond change from the current state), and there is not a recognizable object
blocking that goal. For instance, while waiting in slow moving traffic for an extended amount of time,
a person might look attentively at a gruesome accident as they eventually pass. In this example, the
goal would be a change from the current experience (i.e., waiting in slow moving traffic) and an
available alternative experience would be the accident. To take the example further, a person might
initially be angry that they are slowed in traffic, as their goal is to reach their destination, and it is
being blocked by the traffic. With time, however, the intensity of the anger experience would begin to
fade, and the person would begin to become bored. Boredom would then motivate pursuing an
alternative goal, such as observing the damage of a car accident. Thus, we propose that boredom arises
as emotional intensity fades and one approaches a ―neutral‖ state.
It is also important to distinguish two affective states involving dissatisfaction with the current
situation: boredom and apathy. Apathy results from recognition of complete failure or helplessness [29]
and is characterized by a lack of motivation [51] and a failure to seek alternatives. In contrast, we
propose that boredom results from recognition that the current goal is no longer stimulating (i.e., is
associated with less intense emotion) and is characterized by motivation to change the current situation
and seek alternatives [52]. Increased motivation would allow for the pursuit of alternate goals. For
example, if a person was unsatisfied with their current romantic relationship, but is not attempting to
improve their relationship or seek alternatives because they view the situation as hopeless, it would be
apathy. A person bored with their current romantic relationship would likely seek to change the
situation, either by pursuing new goals in their current relationship or seeking an alternative partner.
The difference in resulting motivation is a crucial distinction between boredom and apathy, as both
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states are sometimes colloquially referred to as ―boredom‖, but they have very different effects.
Indeed, recent research has demonstrated that apathy and boredom are discrete constructs [53].
Based on our proposal regarding the environmental conditions that give rise to boredom, we next
discuss the potential specific and unique impacts of boredom on cognition, behavior, experience, and
physiology. These impacts are outlined in Table 1. Akin to other discrete emotions, the impacts of
boredom should help resolve the conditions that elicit boredom [23]. Specifically, boredom should
encourage the pursuit of goals and experiences that differ from those currently experienced. In many
cases, this would come in the form of novel stimulation which would introduce opportunities for
cognitive and social growth, even if the alternative situations might elicit negative emotion. That is, by
creating a desire for change, boredom encourages people to alter their current situation, which permits
the attainment of opportunities that might have been missed.
Table 1. Proposed effects of boredom and the manifestation of those effects.
Effect
Manifestation
Behavior
MotivationalPursue a new goal
Socialencourage others to create
new situation
Preferences for novel stimuli; preference for risk.
Express boredom through facial movement and
nonverbal cues such as eye rolling.
Cognition
Motivationalpursue a new goal
Attention devoted to novel stimuli; mind
wandering.
Experience
Motivationalpursue a new goal
Experience the current state as negative and averse;
elicits avoidance of a state of boredom.
Physiology
Motivationalpursue a new goal
Increased autonomic arousal.
4. Behavior
The proposed function of boredom to motivate pursuit of alternative goals and experiences, even
those that might elicit negative emotions, should be reflected in behavior. Research examining the
relationship between trait boredom and risk taking behaviors partially supports this proposal, although
trait boredom may well differ from the effects of state boredom [20]. A trait tendency to experience
boredom has been associated with several risk taking behaviors, including drug and alcohol abuse [15,16],
binge eating [17], dropping out of school [18] and problem gambling [14,54]. Although risky behavior
may elicit negative emotions, it represents an opportunity to pursue alternative goals likely to stimulate
and elicit intense emotional responses [48], and thus, these findings, though based on trait boredom,
are consistent with our proposal.
The impact of the experience of state boredom on behavior has received relatively little research
attention. In one of the few studies we are aware of, participants completed a task to induce boredom,
and then were told that, due to time constraints, they would only be able to complete one of two follow
up studies. Participants were then allowed to choose between a study described as completing
questionnaires of common events (e.g., how often do you eat breakfast) or a study involving watching
a film that would elicit intense negative emotions and high arousal and then answering questions. A
small portion of participants chose to complete the study described as intensely negative and arousing.
Participants that chose the negative arousing follow up study were those that experienced a lower level
of sensory stimulation [55]. Based on these findings, and building on previous theory [7,48], we
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speculate that boredom should motivate preferences for novel stimuli, including risky situations. This
preference should be reflected in choices of unfamiliar situations and objects (e.g., interacting with
strangers, choosing challenging tasks). Preference could be given to experiences that are likely to elicit
positive emotions, such as a funny movie, or negative emotions, such as a sad movie. Choosing
situations likely to elicit negative emotions, such as watching a sad movie or horror film, may be
particularly likely after boredom was elicited by recent experience with a situation that elicited
happiness (that has now faded in intensity). That is, the new outcome that is pursued would likely be
determined by the situation that has now faded and produced boredom; if a person became bored
during a positive experience (e.g., a funny movie), a negative experience might become desired and
pursued (e.g., a sad movie). Thus, boredom could motivate behavior to pursue novel opportunities, either
positive or negative.
Preferences for novelty following boredom could also be reflected in changes in arousal. With
repeated exposure, events become familiar and the amount of arousal they produce diminishes [7].
Boredom that results from acclimatizing to a low arousal situation (e.g., reading a paper) might
encourage pursuit of a high arousal activity (e.g., an intense workout at the gym). Similarly, recent
experience with a high arousal activity (e.g., speeding through traffic) might encourage pursuit of a
low arousal activity (e.g., listening to a lecture), as this activity represents a change in the level of
arousal. Interestingly, there may be individual differences in the tendency to prefer changes in arousal
versus continuing high arousal. Some individuals, notably those high in sensation seeking, may prefer
to seek additional arousing activities when their current arousal fades (i.e., sensation seekers; [7,56]).
A substance abuser that uses an ever increasing amount of a substance to attain a similar level of
arousal would be an example of this type of pursuit.
Another line of experimental studies investigating the impact of boredom on behavior has examined
the role of meaning. The pursuit of meaning is proposed to be a fundamental aspect of human life, and
provides a sense of purpose [57]. According to this perspective, boredom results from a meaningless
situation [8], and engenders an urge to seek more meaningful activities. In a series of studies
participants have sought out more meaningful outcomes after a boredom induction [911]. Specifically,
while experiencing a state of high compared to low boredom, participants were more favorable of their
in group, and treated out group members more harshly, as group membership provides a sense of
meaning [9]. Further, when bored, participants were more likely to use nostalgia to return a sense of
meaning to their lives, suggesting that memory was altered to promote a sense of meaning [11]. These
important findings demonstrate that boredom motivates behavior to change the current situation. While
these studies have focused on the importance of meaning in boredom, and have demonstrated the value
of meaning, we contend that behavior is not always driven by meaning [58,59]. That is, boredom may
sometimes motivate behaviors meant to increase a sense of meaning; however, more broadly speaking,
boredom motivates behaviors with the intent to change the current situation. Other emotions can also,
at times, motivate behaviors without meaning. For instance, a person might become anxious by a
passing shadow. This would still result in an experience of anxiety, but there would not be an actual
threat. Thus, boredom, like other emotions, could motivate behaviors without meaning. Importantly,
we propose that boredom results from diminishing emotional stimulation in a situation and prompts
responses to facilitate the pursuit of alternative goals.
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Boredom may also serve a function in social situations, as emotions are proposed to have powerful
impacts on interactions [26]. Typically the social function of emotion is fulfilled through
communicating emotion to others through expression [26,28,42]. For instance, an expression of fear
communicates that there is a present threat to others [28]. We propose that boredom expresses to others
that a person is seeking change and stimulation, potentially prompting others to respond by assisting in
this pursuit. Notably, these are expressions of boredom based on the proposed function of boredom,
but there is limited empirical work related to the experience of boredom. The expression of boredom
would be that of closed lips without flexion of the zygomatic muscle, this could serve as a
demonstration of disengagement from the situation and others [60]. A recent study also found that the
buccinators muscle is activated during experiences of boredom, differing boredom from shame and
sadness [61]. Eyes should be open, but with the lids slightly drooped [61]. Gaze should not be directed
toward anything specific. This would demonstrate to others that interest is lost, and that attention is not
on them [60]. The eyes might also be rolled as a further demonstration that boredom is being
experienced. The posture of boredom is slouched and hunched over [60,62], likely because no new
goal has been identified. Overall, the expression of boredom has received little research attention. The
extant research agrees with our proposed function of boredom, but much of this is based on a single
study. Additional research is required to reliably establish expressions associated with boredom.
5. Cognition
The pursuit of alternative goals and experiences engendered by boredom is likely to be reflected in
shifting attention to novel stimuli. This could be reflected in alternative external or internal stimuli.
External stimuli would be any change in the environment. This could be moving to a different location,
pursuing a new activity or challenge (e.g., quitting work to return to school), or engaging a different
person or group of people. Internal stimuli could be changes in thoughts, affect, arousal, or attention
(e.g., to stop attending to what is being read and start focusing on the birds heard outside the window).
All of these changes would introduce new stimulation.
Consistent with our proposal, boredom has powerful effects on attention (for a complete review
see [2]). In particular, boredom makes it difficult to attend to a task that is currently being completed.
Indeed, at the trait level, there is a relationship between boredom proneness and attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder [63,64]. This relationship also holds in experimental work on state boredom. In
multiple studies meant to assess the effect of boredom on vigilance, participants are required to
monitor carefully for the appearance of certain stimuli. These stimuli are rarely presented, and the
tasks are usually quite long (about 90 minutes). As the task progresses, reported level of boredom
increases and task performance decreases. Participants also report that it is increasingly difficult to
maintain attention [6567]. One limitation of these studies is that boredom is manipulated by the same
task on which performance is measured, meaning that it is unclear if boredom elicits a general
tendency to limit attention to tasks or a general lack of attention to any task.
Consistent with our proposal that boredom shifts attention to alternative goals and experiences,
research also suggests that boredom is associated with greater mind wandering. ―Mind wandering‖
refers to shifts in attention away from a current task and toward unrelated cognitions and feelings [68,69].
Mind wandering to information unrelated to current tasks has been associated with a failure to engage
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attention to the current task [68], and may be caused by boredom. Recent research has suggested that
mind wandering occurs frequently, and people feel more negative affect while mind wandering [3].
This might be due to people being more likely to mind wander to something positive than something
negative [3]. Mind wandering to something more positive than the current situation could be an
indication the current situation is of low functional importance; this would reduce satisfaction with the
current task [70] and encourage change. When the mind wanders to a more negative event, satisfaction
with the current activity may be bolstered, and encourage one to maintain attention. A recent theory of
boredom suggests that an inability to sustain attention, and mind wandering, lead to boredom [2]. We
contend, however, that mind wandering may be result from boredom. Specifically, as the intensity of
an experience fades, the experience of boredom begins. Mind wandering is then motivated by boredom
and is an attempt to find a new goal. It is also possible, however, that as an emotional experience
begins to fade, the mind starts to wander as the increased attention associated with an emotional
experience also fades, before a state of boredom is actually experienced. Extant research demonstrates
that mind wandering is a negative experience [3,71], and that boredom and mind wandering are related [2],
the causal relationship of the two, however, is currently unclear.
Finally, it has been suggested that boredom can increase creativity [7274], despite the fact that folk
ideas often consider boredom and creativity to be opposites [73,74]. In support of this claim, one study
found that, when asked about the subjective positive outcomes of boredom, some participants listed
increased creativity [72]. Future research should examine the effects of an induced state of boredom on
creativity tasks.
6. Experience
The experience of boredom should be negative and aversive, creating a desire to change from the
current state and avoid future states of boredom. Consistent with this proposal, research has found that
boredom is reported to be a negative affective experience [10,63,7578]. The experience of boredom
as a negative state appears to arise in part from a subjective sense of time passing slowly [79]. In one
study, participants completed a task in front of a clock. In one condition, the clock showed that 10
minutes had passed and in the other condition it showed 30 minutes had passed. In both conditions the
actual time of the experiment was 20 minutes (i.e., the clocks were manipulated to show more time or
less time had passed than actually had). Participants reported more boredom when the clock showed
they had worked on the task for 10 minutes, compared to 30 minutes. This is due to participants feeling
like more time had passed (and it actually had), causing them to report more boredom, as boredom
could account for time seemingly passing slowly [80]. Boredom also includes a sense of being unable
to escape an undesirable moment [2,12]. This would create a feeling of being trapped in the current
experience, and we propose would encourage attempts to change the experience. The slow perception
of time passage, and feeling incapable of escaping, likely make the experience of boredom subjectively
more negative and increase the desire to seek alternative goals and experiences.
A recent series of studies assessed the self-reported experience of boredom compared to other
emotions [10]. The self-reported feelings, thoughts, action tendencies, actions, and motivational goals
experienced while bored were distinct from those of anger, frustration and sadness. Specifically,
boredom was reported to uniquely include simultaneous feelings of restlessness and a lack of
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challenge. Distinct thoughts included that the current situations served no purpose. Participants also
reported a desire for doing something completely different and a desire to do something with purpose [10].
These findings provide important differences between the experience of boredom and other similar
emotions and, although differences among emotions were self-reported, suggest directions for future
work to establish the effects of boredom.
7. Physiology
Boredom should be associated with increased autonomic arousal to enable the pursuit of alternative
goals and experiences, but potential physiological changes due to boredom have received little
research attention. In two studies boredom was manipulated through the use of a vigilance task, or a
repetitive writing task (i.e., writing the letters ―cd‖ repeatedly), or participants wrote stories to describe
the events in a picture (the second study was a within-subjects design, and counterbalanced the order
of condition). While completing the task, participants galvanic skin potential (study 1), skin
conductance and heart rate were recorded (study 2). Results showed that higher levels of reported
boredom were accompanied by increased autonomic arousal (i.e., heart rate and galvanic skin
response; [81]). This finding might seem counterintuitive, based on the conventional lethargic
conceptualization of boredom. Indeed, the extant research on the physiological effects of boredom is
mixed, with some findings that boredom is associated with low arousal [82], some findings that
boredom is a high arousal state [72,81], and some findings that boredom can be associated with both
low and high arousal [2,6,20]. These mixed findings appear to result from a failure to distinguish
between apathy (a low arousal state) and boredom (potentially a high arousal state). We contend that,
because boredom encourages seeking alternative goals and experiences, it should be associated with
increased activity from the autonomic nervous system. In addition to the experimental findings above,
this claim is indirectly supported by findings that under-stimulated (i.e., bored) rats run faster [83], and
children exposed to a stimulus for a long period of time respond faster to a signal noise than children
exposed for a short period [84]. These findings suggest that boredom prepares for action, likely due to
increased autonomic arousal.
8. Conclusions
Boredom is frequently and commonly experienced, suggesting that it plays a valuable role in human
goal pursuit. We propose that boredom is a discrete functional emotion, and serves to encourage
people to seek new goals and experiences. Boredom provides a valuable adaptive function by signaling
it is time to pursue a new goal. Much like Alice becoming distracted from her fear of falling and
shifting her attention towards the cupboards and her upcoming conversations; we propose that
boredom will motivate the pursuit of new goals as the intensity of the current experience fades.
Experimental research is needed to test these claims, but the current paper provides a much needed
direction for basic boredom research.
Acknowledgments
The authors would like to thank Brea Grant for her valuable insight into the entertainment field.
Behav. Sci. 2013, 3 469
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).
... To advance boredom research, it seems worthwhile to further unpack boredom's constituents (i.e., what is boredom?) from its antecedences, correlates, and consequences. In the spirit of recent functional accounts on boredom 39 (See also Chapter ### and Chapter ###), we focus on the mechanisms that constitute boredom. We strive to elucidate how these mechanisms can afford boredom the function it is understood to have. ...
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... Similar observations can be made with respect to motivation. While apathy is associated with a decrease in motivation with respect to all stimuli, boredom may lead to an increase in motivation for seeking other stimuli 10,39,111 . Lastly, statistical analyses revealed that boredom represents a latent construct that differs from apathy 41 . ...
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This study rested the idea of habits as a form of goal-directed automatic behavior. Expanding on the idea that habits are mentally represented as associations between goals and actions, it was proposed that goals are capable of activating the habitual action. More specific, when habits are established (e.g., frequent cycling to the university), the very activation of the goal to act (e.g., having to attend lectures at the university) automatically evokes the habitual response (e.g., bicycle). Indeed, it was tested and confirmed that, when behavior is habitual, behavioral responses are activated automatically. in addition, the results of 3 experiments indicated that (a) the automaticity in habits is conditional on the presence of an active goal (cf. goal-dependent automaticity; J. A. Bargh, 1989), supporting the idea that habits are mentally represented as goal-action links, and (b) the formation of implementation intentions (i.e., the creation of a strong mental link between a goal and action) may simulate goal-directed automaticity in habits.
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This study investigated the relationships between boredom proneness, mood monitoring, mood labeling, and tendency to experience flow; and explored some qualitative, phenomenological aspects of boredom. College students (N = 170) responded to an anonymous questionnaire containing the Boredom Proneness Scale (Farmer & Sundberg, 1986), the Mood Awareness Scale (Swinkels & Giuliano, 1995), a measure of flow proneness, and questions about the experience of boredom. As predicted, Boredom Proneness was positively correlated with mood monitoring, negatively correlated with mood labeling, and negatively correlated with flow. Respondents provided interesting information about their perceptions of boredom, its causes, and their strategies for coping with and planning for boring situations. A majority of participants described positive aspects of boredom, and 10% volunteered that they were never bored.
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The question whether body movements and body postures are indicative of specific emotions is a matter of debate. While some studies have found evidence for specific body movements accompanying specific emotions, others indicate that movement behavior (aside from facial expression) may be only indicative of the quantity (intensity) of emotion, but not of its quality. The study reported here is an attempt to demonstrate that body movements and postures to some degree are specific for certain emotions. A sample of 224 video takes, in which actors and actresses portrayed the emotions of elated joy, happiness, sadness, despair, fear, terror, cold anger, hot anger, disgust, contempt, shame, guilt, pride, and boredom via a scenario approach, was analyzed using coding schemata for the analysis of body movements and postures. Results indicate that some emotion-specific movement and posture characteristics seem to exist, but that for body movements differences between emotions can be partly explained by the dimension of activation. While encoder (actor) differences are rather pronounced with respect to specific movement and posture habits, these differences are largely independent from the emotion-specific differences found. The results are discussed with respect to emotion-specific discrete expression models in contrast to dimensional models of emotion encoding.
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In this article, the author describes a new theoretical perspective on positive emotions and situates this new perspective within the emerging field of positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory posits that experiences of positive emotions broaden people's momentary thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources. Preliminary empirical evidence supporting the broaden-and-build theory is reviewed, and open empirical questions that remain to be tested are identified. The theory and findings suggest that the capacity to experience positive emotions may be a fundamental human strength central to the study of human flourishing.