Canadian researchers have proposed a new definition for boredom in a paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science. Boredom matters because it may lead to overeating, alcohol abuse and on-the-job accidents. Mark Fenske explained the team’s work in a U. of Guelph news release:
“[Boredom is] an amazingly understudied area given how universal the experience is,” Fenske said.
“The fact that it’s difficult to define is, in part, why there has been so little research done. We need to have a common definition, something we all can agree on, of what boredom is.”
A scientific definition is needed not only to accommodate the different characteristics of boredom that have already been established but also to bridge across a variety of theoretical perspectives, Fenske added.
The researchers, led by York University professor John Eastwood, set out to better understand the mental processes that fuel feelings of boredom.
They found that attention and awareness are keys to the aimless state. After reviewing existing psychological science and neuroscience studies, they defined 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.
In other words, you become bored when:
• you have difficulty paying attention to the internal information, such as thoughts or feelings, or outside stimuli required to take part in satisfying activity;
• you are aware that you’re having difficulty paying attention; and
• you blame the environment for your sorry state (“This task is boring”; “There is nothing to do”).
“At the heart of it is our desire to engage with the world or some other mental activity, and that takes attention,” Fenske said. “When we cannot do this —that seems to be what leads to frustration and the aversive state we call ‘boredom.’”