Boredom—it’s something we probably all experience at some time or another, but some people are more prone to it than others. Let’s start off our boredom discussion with a definition. While there is no single agreed-upon definition, I like this one:
“Boredom represents a negative experience commonly arising in situations deemed deficient in meaning, interest, and challenge, and is thought to motivate us to remediate these deficiencies by modifying behaviors or situations.”Struk, Carriere, Cheyne, & Danckert, 2015
The authors cited above developed a test to measure boredom called A Short Boredom Proneness Scale, which consisted of the following items:
- “I often find myself at ‘loose ends,’ not knowing what to do.
- I find it hard to entertain myself.
- Many things I have to do are repetitive and monotonous.
- It takes more stimulation to get me going than most people.
- I don’t feel motivated by most things that I do.
- In most situations, it is hard for me to find something to do or see to keep me interested.
- Much of the time, I just sit around doing nothing.
- Unless I am doing something exciting, even dangerous, I feel half-dead and dull.”
Who gets bored
Some research has suggested that males are more prone to boredom than females, and boredom proneness tends to decrease with age, with people being more boredom-prone in their late teens compared to their 20s. People with higher levels of self-control who are better able to self-regulate their emotions, cognitions, and behaviours tend to be less prone to boredom. Self-control tends to increase with age, which may be why boredom becomes less of an issue.
Depression, hostility, and spontaneous mind-wandering were also associated with boredom proneness. Deliberate mind-wandering was not linked with boredom, and the researchers suggested that difficulty directing and sustaining attention could be the reason for the link to spontaneous mind-wandering.
When might we get bored?
I can think of a few different kinds of scenarios where boredom can occur:
- when you’re stuck in a tedious situation you can’t get out of, like listening to someone speak about something completely uninteresting
- being stuck waiting somewhere with nothing to do
- being at work with no work to do
- doing uninteresting tasks
- continuing to read/watch a book/show that doesn’t interest you but you feel like you’ve put in the time already so you might as well finish it
- wanting to be stimulated but not being able to come up with anything that does the trick
- wanting to do something in particular but being unable to for some reason, and anything else seems so much less interesting in comparison
- not finding any interest in things you try doing
- being unable to think of anything to do
It seems like there are two broad types of situations in which boredom might occur. One is when there are situational constraints that limit what you’re able to engage in at a given point in time. The other is more of an internal issue, with difficulty generating ideas or interest even when there are no external limitations on what you can do. Situational boredom strikes me as something that’s likely to happen to anyone, whereas internal boredom seems like it could depend more on personality and thinking styles.
I used to have a hard time keeping myself entertained at work when there was no work to do. Aside from that, though, I’ve never been particularly boredom-prone. I’ve always liked reading, and that was an easy thing to do if nothing else happened to present itself. I used to do a lot of solo travelling, and there was a fair bit of down time on planes, trains, and automobiles, which I was fine with. While I don’t have a particularly vivid imagination to roam about with, I am comfortable hanging out in my head.
I don’t need a lot of stimulation to keep me amused. I spend the vast majority of my time at home alone (aside from the guinea pigs), and usually I don’t have much of a problem keeping myself occupied. I’m good with low-key activities and even just sitting watching the guinea pigs or watching the birds outside my window. Repetitive and monotonous tasks can actually be a nice way of doing something without needing to come up with the energy to engage my brain. I did a ton of colouring while I was in hospital recently, and I found it was a very easy way to pass the time.
I suppose I experience boredom sometimes with depression, although I’m not sure that it’s entirely the same thing. The apathy runs deeper, and even things I normally like, including the guinea pigs, lose any shine. Sometimes things that normally occupy my time become aversive, and it’s hard to find a way to pass the time that isn’t actively unpleasant. When it gets like that, time passes very slowly. I don’t usually think of it as boredom, though, because it’s less not having anything to do and more not wanting to do anything.
So that’s me; now it’s over to you. Do you tend to get bored easily? In what kind of situations do you find boredom hits the hardest?