Boredom And Boredom Proneness

Boredom is an emotional state ranging from mild to severe discontent that people describe as a feeling of tedium, monotony, ennui, apathy, meaninglessness, emptiness, lack of interest, and disconnection with the current environment. Boredom is the state—the current condition. Boredom proneness is the trait—a tendency to experience tedium and little personal involvement and enthusiasm, a general or frequent lack of sufficient interest in one's life surroundings and future. The most commonly used measure of boredom and boredom proneness, as with many internal emotional conditions, such as depression and anxiety, is some form of self-report. Behavioral indicators could include yawning, "glazed" eyes, slumped posture, restlessness, and such signs of inattention as looking around the room. Emotions or states opposite to boredom include interest, enthusiasm, involvement, engagement, and optimal stimulation.

Paradoxically, boredom is interesting for both practical and theoretical reasons. Boredom is of practical importance because of its relation to many social problems, such as delinquency, dropping out of school, drug abuse, low morale, poor industrial production, job turnover, and problems of living in institutions such as prisons, mental hospitals, military settings, and nursing homes. Being boring is a condition that all lecturers, entertainers, and advertisers try to avoid. Although boredom is an emotion that probably everyone has experienced, it has received much less research attention than emotions such as depression and anger. One review, covering 1926 to 1980, found less than one article per year on boredom. However, between 1992 and 2002, the pace of research and theoretical activity had increased, and PsyclNFO citations occurred at the rate of ten per year.

In addition to practical reasons, there are important theoretical reasons to understand boredom as a motivational concept connecting inner feelings and motives with environmental conditions. Theories relate boredom to attention, arousal, information processing, and stimulus underload. In 1960 Berlyne (1960, p. 187) stated that boredom is "a drive that is reduced through divertive exploration and aroused when external stimuli are excessively scarce or excessively monotonous." The most common theoretical approach construes boredom as occurring in situations with less than the optimal level of stimulation. Theorists tend to emphasize either external conditions or internal predispositions or characteristics. Industrial research is mainly concerned with external conditions as they affect productivity. Among others, Zuckerman emphasized internal elements and saw boredom susceptibility as a part of a stimulusseeking model. For existentialists, a distinction may be made between existential boredom (the sense of lack of intrinsic meaning in life) and neurotic boredom (an anxious lack of interest or purpose). Some psychoanalytic thought brings another possible research-generating element— sense of control. In 1951 Fenichel stated that boredom occurs "when we must not do what we want to do, or must do what we do not want to do." (Fenichel 1959, p. 359).

Boredom involves ongoing person-environment rela-tionships—the fit of the individual's characteristics to the situation's characteristics. Csikszentmihalyi explored the balance of boredom with anxiety, both being mismatches between environmental challenge and personal competence. Boredom occurs in situations in which a person's capabilities are greater than situational opportunities for expression, whereas anxiety comes when the environment demands more of the person that he or she is able to perform at the time. The achievement of balance occurs in "flow," a condition of pleasurable absorption in an activity. Cross-cultural issues, such as collectivism versus individualism, offer additional theoretical challenges for exploring boredom as an important relation between persons and social environments.

Research on boredom mainly falls into two general categories: (1) experiments in which conditions are manipulated using a stimulus situation assumed to be boring, such as vigilance tasks (e.g., watching radar screens for long periods) or other monotonous tasks (e.g., crossing out a given letter on pages of random letters); and (2) correlation of ratings or questionnaires about boredom with other measures or conditions. Afew tests have been developed. Zuckerman's Stimulus Seeking Scale included a Boredom Susceptibility subscale. Another is the Boredom Proneness Scale, or BPS, by Farmer and Sundberg, a 28-item self-report scale that shows good reliability and some evidence of validity but does not correlate significantly with the Zuckerman sub-scale. Vodanovich and Kass identified five factors in the BPS conceptually very similar to those discussed in the literature: external stimulation, internal stimulation, affective responses to boredom, perception of time (slowness), and constraints (on self-initiated actions). In several studies males are more boredom prone than females. Boredom may be highest in adolescence and may decrease with age. The BPS relates to disinclination to vote, narcissism, forms of self-absorption, and pathological gambling. Several studies have shown a moderate overlap between boredom and negative emotions, such as depression and loneliness.

Physiological factors in relation to boredom have been explored. Zuckerman advocated a physiological basis for boredom and sensation seeking in line with Eysenck's theory. Eysenck postulated that the arousal systems of extroverted people require more stimulation than those of introverts; therefore, in seeking optimal levels of stimulation, extroverts are more outgoing, carefree, and impulsive. In a 1981 review, Smith noted that the most consistent finding was that extroverts were especially vulnerable to boredom. Others reviewing the biological evidence related to monotony avoidance and impulsiveness (which are aspects of extroversion) concluded that there is an association between certain neurochemical activities (especially that of monoamine oxidase, or MAO) and impulsiveness and sensation seeking. Hamilton found increases in capacity for sustained attention in relation to biological indicators during development in later childhood and adolescence.

Coping with boredom is another area of study. Hamilton developed a brief self-report measure of intrinsic enjoyment and boredom coping. She and her colleagues have found these measures to be related to ability to attend to a performance task for long periods—an important element in many industrial and military situations. Fantasy is one way of coping with monotonous situations, and a paucity of fantasy may be related to boredom proneness. Addictive behaviors may be used in coping with boredom, including overeating. Reported boredom is related to school performance. Boredom also appears to be a signal of problems with creativity. Clinicians have been concerned about coping with boredom during psychotherapy either on the part of the patient or the therapist, seeing it as an indicator of problems in transference or countertransference. The positive function of boredom may be to alert a person to do something different.

In conclusion, boredom seems to be generating more and more research attention. At this point, the findings suggest hypotheses for many kinds of studies. There is a strong need for further theoretical development integrating the empirical results with a larger theory of emotions.

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