Friday, 26 April 2013


The ‘Why’ of Boredom

     Try this: When you are feeing alert and energetic, turn off all sources of noise, such as the windows that bring external noise, turn off the TV, lie down on your couch, close your eyes by wrapping a thick piece of cloth around your head for good measure, tying your hands very close to your body so your ability to explore the surrounding textures and surfaces is completely curtailed. Notice how long you can lie like this and what feeling this gives rise to. Yawn, right?

     A group of people who volunteered to be participants in an experimental study by researchers Bexton and colleagues(1954) would beg to differ from your opinion! They agreed to be kept in an isolated cubicle and were paid a handsome amount per day for staying in this cubicle without doing, seeing, hearing, or touching anything! They were only allowed to be rid of these encumbrances while eating or using the toilet. 

     The participants seemed highly motivated to stay this way for about four to eight hours but all of them dropped out of the  study in 3 or 4 days after exhibiting extreme restlessness and acute boredom. 

     Being kept from doing something of interest or importance quickly gets us in a state of boredom. On the other hand, being made to do something that we do not want to engage in at the moment leads to boredom as well. There is an increasing number of psychologists today who identify boredom to be an emotion. It can be thought to be an unpleasant emotion characterized by lack of interest and difficulty in concentrating on current activities.

     Any activity with which we are unable to engage actively with attention and focus is promptly judged boring or monotonous. You may have noticed how people who generally lack attention tend to get bored very easily. As ones attention keeps sliding superficially over a number of stimuli, meaningful association with the topic or subject becomes very difficult and hence it turns boring.

     As we learn and grow, it gets harder for us to be entertained or interested by things! Can you play all day with a spoon with as much involvement and excitement as a toddler? When something doesn’t align with our level of intellectual capability, it leads to boredom!

     We as humans seek meaning in everything we do. We take up our curricular and extra-curricular activities with a certain sense of purpose and ambition. We take up jobs and many friendships and relationships, all in the quest to find a place for ourselves in the world. When one recognizes that whatever they are engaged with currently doesn’t satisfy their will to meaning sufficiently, they appear bored with life! 

     Interestingly, recent studies have identified that boredom is, in fact, a good thing! It pushes many of us to pursue meaningful, prosocial endeavours aimed at making a difference in the lives of others.