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19 October 2012
There are certain times in life that are less exciting than others. Some staff meetings for instance, are less interesting than watching a block of cheese. Magazines in dentist’s waiting rooms are generally less exciting than listening to your own ear hair growing (unless the magazine is WellBeing!). What is it though that makes some circumstances so undeniably boring? This might seem a trivial question but researchers say that boredom could be a matter of life and death.
Researchers from a series of Canadian universities decided to examine the mental processes that underlie boredom in order to define it. To do this they looked at many existing studies and came up with some unifying findings.
They decided that boredom can be defined as “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable to, engage in satisfying activity”. It is a state they say which physically arises from failures in the brain’s attention networks.
That is what is happening within the individual when they are bored but the researchers went further to describe what a bored person is experiencing. Specifically they found that a person is bored when they have difficulty paying attention to information whether it is coming from within (thoughts and feelings) or without (environmental stimuli). Boredom is also happening when you are aware that you are not paying attention and often when you believe that the environment is responsible for your negative state. That’s all very well, but who cares unless it all has implications for health? These researchers say that the implications of boredom are significant.
They say that while boredom might just be a minor thing relieved by a change in circumstances, it can also be a long-term stressor that impacts your wellbeing. They observe that boredom at work can lead to accidents if the job requires constant vigilance. Additionally, on a behavioural level boredom could be linked to problems with impulse control leading to compulsive behaviours like overeating, drug abuse, and problem gambling.
Of course, what the researchers didn’t touch on is that boredom is a matter of perspective. Could it be that there is no such thing as a boring situation but merely a boring mind? That apparently boring block of cheese from the opening paragraph could be a source of titillation to a fromage fancier. So if all that is a touch boring to you, maybe that’s your problem.