Mercer-Lynn, K.B., Bar, R.J., & Eastwood, J.D. (2014). Causes of boredom: The person, the situation, or both? Personality and Individual Differences, 56, 122-126.
Does boredom spring from our self, from the environment, or from an interaction between our personality and the environment?
Scholars have produced theories advancing each of these models; thus, this article sought to evaluate which model, when tested alongside the others, was most strongly supported. Statistical analyses were used to investigate the relative contribution of 1) personality factors (boredom proneness, boredom susceptibility*, behavioural inhibition, and behavioural activation), 2) the environment (participants were induced into either a state of boredom or interest), and 3) the potential interaction between the two, to participants’ experience of boredom in the moment (state boredom).
Results supported all three models. On their own, the personality factors of boredom proneness, boredom susceptibility and behavioural inhibition were significantly predictive of state boredom scores, over and above the effect of the environment (whether or not participants had been induced into a state of boredom or interest), with individuals scoring high on these personality traits reporting more state boredom. The environment was also a significant predictor on its own: individuals induced into a state of boredom did indeed report higher state boredom scores. Finally, the interaction between behavioural inhibition and condition was significant, with behaviourally inhibited participants induced into a state of boredom reporting higher state boredom than non-behaviourally inhibited participants induced into a state of boredom. When all predictors who had been shown to be significant on their own were tested together, only the environment, boredom proneness and the interaction between behavioural inhibition and the environment retained the ability to predict ratings of boredom in the moment.
As these results suggest, boredom is likely an experience that can spring from a variety of causes. The individual at a coffee shop looking bored by his friends’ engaging conversation may be experiencing boredom due a general tendency to experience boredom; the student in the middle of a 3 hour lecture where the lecturer reads off her notes in a monotone without making eye contact may be bored due to the boring situation; the behaviourally inhibited individual in line to renew his health card may be bored due to the combination of his inhibition and the boring situation. What do you feel primarily causes your boredom?
Mercer-Lynn, K.B., Hunter, J.A., & Eastwood, J.D. (2013). Is trait boredom redundant? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32, 897-916.
Is trait boredom to blame? Or, put another way, do we really need the concept of “boredom”?
Decades of research have consistently linked trait (chronic) boredom with all manner of personal and societal ills such as depression, anxiety, problem gambling, alcohol abuse and anger. However, one question left largely untouched by the research to date is whether boredom is uniquely connected to these issues. As this suggests, the overwhelming majority of studies have examined boredom’s connections to these issues without including other variables.
Addressing this gap, our study examined boredom’s links to the issues listed above while also including six alternative variables that had been linked to both boredom and the psychosocial problems. (In other words, these six alternative variables were ones that could potentially account for boredom’s apparent link to these psychosocial problems.) Our results found that trait boredom was uniquely linked to externalizing (acting out) problems, particularly anger; and also to internalizing (withdrawing) problems, particularly depression. Our results also supported previous work that had advanced that there might be more than one type of boredom, as the two boredom scales used in our study were linked to different types of problems. The Boredom Susceptibility Scale (ZBS) was associated with externalizing problems, and the Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS) was associated with internalizing problems.
Eastwood, J.D., Frischen, A., Fenske, M.J., & Smilek, D. (2012). The unengaged mind: Defining boredom in terms of attention. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 482-495.
What does it mean to be bored?
To be sure, we all know what it feels like to be bored. Indeed, the current definitions of boredom have pursued this line of inquiry, defining boredom in terms of how it is subjectively experienced or felt. Although these definitions resonate with human experience, they lack the precision required for rigorous scientific study.
Consequently, this article goes beyond the present model, defining boredom in terms of the underlying mental processes of attention, or, more specifically, attention failures. Following an exhaustive review of the literature on boredom and attention, boredom is defined as: “the aversive state that occurs when we (a) are not able to successfully engage attention with internal (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external (e.g., environmental stimuli) information required for participating in satisfying activity; (b) are aware of the fact that we are not able to engage attention and participate in satisfying activity, which can take the form of either awareness of a high degree of mental effort expended in an attempt to engage with the task at hand or awareness of engagement with task-unrelated concerns (e.g., mind wandering); and (c) attribute the cause of our aversive state to the environment (e.g., “this task is boring”, “there is nothing to do”)” (p. 484). The experiential components of boredom (e.g., slow passage of time) are then discussed in terms of the underlying attention processes at work in these phenomena (e.g., failure to engage attention with the task at hand, leading to conscious perception of the passage of time).
Fahlman, S.A., Mercer-Lynn, K.B., Flora, D.B., & Eastwood, J.D. (2011). Development and validation of the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale (MSBS). Assessment. Published online September 8, doi: 10.1177/1073191111421303
Research in the field of boredom has overwhelmingly focused on exploring trait (chronic) boredom. In contrast, the experience of state (in the moment) boredom has been neglected, perhaps because unlike with chronic boredom the measurement of state boredom has been largely ad-hoc.
Addressing this gap, this article outlines the theoretical and empirical development of the first (and to date, only) full-scale measure of state boredom: the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale. The 29-item scale is comprised of five subscales (Disengagement, Time Perception, Inattention, High Arousal Negative Affect, Low Arousal Negative Affect) that sum together to create a total score that reflects the individual’s degree of boredom in the moment. The scale showed excellent validity as assessed by a variety of criteria. In addition, the scale’s factor structure was invariant across gender, meaning that the scale’s factor structure does not hold truer for one gender than it does for the other.
The development of this scale opens up new and exciting possibilities. With a psychometrically sound measure in hand, researchers investigating state boredom can be assured that their results accurately reflect participants’ levels of boredom and not some other unknown construct.
Mercer-Lynn, K.B., Flora, D.B., Fahlman, S.A., & Eastwood, J.D. (2011). The measurement of boredom: Differences between existing self-report scales. Assessment. Published online May 12, doi: 10.1177/1073191111408229
“Lying on your bed” boredom vs. “Skydiving” boredom–A tale of two boredoms:
Since the development of the two most commonly used measures of trait boredom, the Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS; Farmer & Sundberg, 1986) and the Boredom Susceptibility Scale (ZBS; Zuckerman, Eysenck, & Eysenck, 1978, Zuckerman, 1979), researchers have suggested that these two scales may not measure the same construct. For instance, previous work has shown that these scales are not highly correlated. In addition, the scales’ authors define trait boredom in slightly different ways.
Consequently, this article sought to directly examine whether these two scales did indeed measure the same construct by assessing the scales’ relationships to proposed causes of boredom as well as to known correlates of boredom: negative affect states and behavioural problems. The results suggested that these two scales are measuring different types of trait boredom. “BPS-type trait boredom” was characterized by negative emotion and withdrawal. For instance, the BPS but not the ZBS was associated with experiential avoidance, depression, anxiety and emotional eating. In contrast, “ZBS-type trait boredom” was characterized by a pattern of behavioural approach in order to increase arousal, with the ZBS and not the BPS linked to sensitivity to reward, motor impulsiveness, alcohol problems and gambling behaviour. As a result, it is recommended that researchers carefully consider which of these scales they use to measure trait boredom, and further that results not be generalized across these scales.
Goldberg, Y.K., Eastwood, J.D., Laguardia, J., & Danckert, J. (2011). Boredom: An emotional experience distinct from apathy, anhedonia, or depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 30, 647-666.
Is “boredom” a distinct emotional experience? Or, is what we call “boredom” already accounted for by the related mood states/affective experiences of apathy (lack of motivation), anhedonia (loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities), and/or depression? Research has shown that these four constructs are all highly correlated. In addition, all four constructs touch on the experience of low-energy/under-arousal.
Using structural equation modeling, this article showed that boredom–although correlated with apathy, anhedonia and depression–is psychometrically distinct. In other words, there is something about the experience of being bored that is not fully captured by the experiences of apathy, anhedonia, or depression. As this suggests, boredom is an important construct worthy of examination in its own right. For instance, boredom’s high association with depression despite these two constructs being distinct points to the need for further work investigating the nature of the relationship between boredom and depression. Finally, the results also contribute further clarity to the ongoing work to construct a standard definition of boredom: in addition to investigating what boredom is, it is also important to discover what it is not.
Mercer, K.B., & Eastwood, J.D. (2010). Is boredom associated with problem gambling behaviour? It depends on what you mean by ‘boredom.’ International Gambling Studies, 10, 91-104.
Research on gambling often points to boredom as a motivator for problem gambling behaviour. However, two competing explanations exist as to why this might be the case. One theory conceptualizes boredom as a state of under-arousal and gambling as an arousal-increasing strategy, while another conceptualizes boredom as a negative mood state and gambling as a means of escape from this affect. This study sought to clarify which theory was best supported by investigating which of the Boredom Susceptibility Scale (ZBS; Zuckerman, Eysenck, & Eysenck, 1978, Zuckerman, 1979 – views boredom as a state of under-arousal) and the Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS; Farmer & Sundberg, 1986 – views boredom as a negative affect state) was most strongly related to gambling behaviour. Measures of sensitivity to reward and sensitivity to punishment were also included to ensure that any associations observed between boredom and problem gambling were not a function of boredom’s relationship to the behavioural activation system (i.e., sensitivity to reward) and behavioural inhibition system (i.e., sensitivity to punishment).
The results showed that ZBS but not the BPS predicted problem gambling behaviour; thus, our study supports the theory that gambling acts as an arousal-increasing strategy to counteract the under-arousal of boredom. Notably, the ZBS predicted problem gambling over and above sensitivity to reward, suggesting that there is something about boredom that contributes to problem gambling over and above a general tendency to be motivated by reward. That the ZBS but not the BPS was linked to problem gambling also supports the idea that these two measures of trait boredom may not be measuring exactly the same construct.
Fahlman, S. A., Mercer, K. B., Gaskovski, P., Eastwood, A. E., & Eastwood, J. D. (2009). Does a lack of life meaning cause boredom? Results from psychometric, longitudinal, and experimental analyses. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28, 307-340.
Are we bored because there is “nothing to do”? Or are we bored because, on a fundamental level, we have nothing to do?
This article investigated the existential hypothesis that an absence of life meaning is a direct contributor to boredom. Taken together, the article’s results provide strong support for this theory. A longitudinal analysis showed that life meaning predicted boredom across time: in other words, life meaning at the first time point was able to explain a significant portion of the pattern of boredom scores at the second time point. Interestingly, boredom predicted life meaning across time, suggesting that boredom and life meaning may be mutually causative. An experimental study showed that manipulating participants’ life meaning results in changes in boredom levels: participants directed to reflect on and describe an experience of low life meaning reported significantly higher boredom levels after this meaning manipulation than participants directed to reflect on and describe an experience of high life meaning. More broadly, given boredom’s relationship to a number of psychological and social problems, these results highlight the importance of attending to others’ and one’s own expressions of boredom and of reduced life meaning.
Eastwood, J. D., Cavaliere, C., Fahlman, S. A., & Eastwood, A. E. (2007). A desire for desires: Boredom and its relation to alexithymia. Personality and Individual Differences, 42, 1035-1045.
Can a rollercoaster cure boredom?
In contrast to the popular view that boredom results from a boring environment, psychodynamic explanations of boredom point to one’s inner life as the cause of boredom. This article sought to evaluate this psychodynamic theory by investigating the relationship between alexithymia (difficulty describing or identifying one’s feelings) and boredom: if boredom is more the result of psychological forces than a boring environment, then boredom and alexithymia should be correlated. Structural equation modeling showed that this was indeed the case–alexithymia and boredom were directly related. Importantly, although external orientation was also associated with boredom (the bored individual focuses on the external environment, and how it is not exciting enough), this relationship was not significant when alexithymia was included. In other words, the environment is not the source of boredom; one’s inner world, such as an inability to fully access one’s emotions, is a more important contributor. As this suggests, common “cures” for boredom, which typically focus on a search for distracting activities, may ultimately only increase boredom–riding a rollercoaster will not ultimately reduce one’s boredom. Instead, a careful consideration of one’s purpose and desires is likely to be of more use.
Gerritsen, C.J., Toplak, M.E., Sciaraffa, J., & Eastwood, J.D. (in press). I can’t get no satisfaction: Potential causes of boredom.
Is boredom in our heads?
The research on boredom has outlined a variety of causes of boredom, which can be classed into three broad camps: emotional, motivational and cognitive. This paper focuses on investigating more closely the particular cognitive factors (inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and executive dysfunction) that may contribute to boredom, as to date the research on potential cognitive causes of boredom has been relatively nonspecific. In addition, although the research has provided strong supporting evidence for each of these particular factors’ role in chronic boredom, the present study extends these findings by investigating for the first time the independent and interdependent contributions of all of these four factors to chronic boredom. Three types of chronic boredom (each measured by a different scale: the Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS); the Boredom Susceptibility Scale (ZBS); and the trait version of the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale – Disengagement (MTBS-d) Subscale) were used as outcome measures.
Stepwise regression analyses showed that executive dysfunction significantly predicted BPS scores, whereas hyperactivity significantly predicted ZBS scores, and executive dysfunction, hyperactivity and inattention all significantly predicted MTBS-d scores. Impulsivity was not a significant predictor of any type of chronic boredom.
Commonality analyses examined the degree to which each of the significant predictor(s) of the boredom scales provided unique predictive power, and/or shared predictive power in combination with one or more of the other factors. Overall, each predictor contributed both unique and shared variance; and, furthermore, the largest portion of variability accounted for within each type of boredom propensity was overlapping (shared) variability between multiple cognitive causes. In other words, although we can speak of unique causes of boredom, it is also – and perhaps, more – true to say that the cognitive causes of boredom overlap and work in tandem to produce boredom.
The results suggest several things. Firstly, the findings support the distinction between the types of chronic boredom assessed by the BPS and the ZBS, as these types of chronic boredom had different cognitive predictors. Secondly, the results encourage further exploration of the common variance underlying each type of boredom propensity. The more we know…the more we discover we don’t know. Further work is encouraged to investigate more deeply this common variance, as understanding chronic boredom will bring us closer to being able to design interventions for this upsetting experience.
Hunter, J.A., Dyer, K.J., Cribbie, R.A., & Eastwood, J.D. (in submission). Mapping boredom: Exploring the utility of the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale.
State boredom–the experience of boredom in the moment–is related to a number of psychosocial issues and maladaptive states. For instance, participants induced into a state of boredom display, relative to controls, increased hostility. Investigators studying clinically depressed psychiatric in-patients have even found that state boredom is a key predictor of suicidal ideation. Until the recent creation of the first full-scale measure of state boredom, the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale (MSBS; Fahlman, Mercer-Lynn, Flora, & Eastwood, 2011), research on state boredom was constrained by the lack of a comprehensive, validated measure. However, the MSBS could benefit from further validation and psychometric evaluation to more fully establish its utility: this was the aim of the present study.
Four significant findings emerged from our statistical evaluation of the MSBS: 1) The full MSBS (29 items) correctly classified 89.9% of participants into their experimental condition (bored vs. not-bored). 2) A subset of only five items correctly classified 84.1% of participants. These five items (the “MSBS-5”) may thus be used fruitfully as a short version of the full MSBS, and may be particularly useful for researchers designing experiments that call for brief, repeated measures of state boredom. 3) The combination of disengagement, inattention, and time perception may be particularly important in distinguishing boredom from other emotions. And, finally, 4) Responding differed by gender on only one item out of the full 29 items. Thus researchers using the MSBS can be assured that any differences among genders are a function of true gender differences, and not a gender bias of the MSBS (with the possible exception of this one item).
*Although boredom proneness and boredom susceptibility sound like the same concept, each refers to a type of trait (chronic) boredom measured by a particular scale. Boredom proneness is assessed by the Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS; Farmer & Sundberg, 1986), whereas boredom susceptibility is assessed by the Boredom Susceptibility Scale (ZBS; Zuckerman, 1979; Zuckerman, Eysenck, & Eysenck, 1978). These two scales have been found to have very different patterns of associations with psychological and social issues (see: Mercer-Lynn, Hunter & Eastwood, 2013; Mercer-Lynn, Flora, Fahlman, & Eastwood, 2011), and thus likely measure two different types of trait boredom.