What is it about?
We all experience boredom, from being stuck in lines to reading scientific articles. Boredom leads us to mind-wander and doodle, gamble or drink, even pull out our phones in the middle of conversations when we just can`t pay attention. But what is boredom, and why do we experience it? No existing scientific theory of boredom fully accounts for it; we present a new theory that does in this paper. We show that boredom signals a lack of meaningful cognitive engagement, and occurs when people are unable (or unwilling) to pay attention and find meaning in what they are doing. In other words, boredom is dashboard light that alerts us when what we're doing lacks meaning or when we're unable to focus our attention on it. That means, we can be bored when something's understimulating (or too easy for us), OR when it's overstimulating (and too hard for us to pay attention). These different kinds of boredom feel different, because they're giving us different information about what's gone wrong and what we need to do to fix it. Boredom is neither good nor bad, but it can be useful - if heeded accordingly.
Photo by Javier Cañada on Unsplash
Why is it important?
Why do people become bored, and what are the personal and social consequences of this unpleasant state? There has been a great deal of interest in this topic in recent years, but no overarching scientific perspective that fully captures it. This paper proposes a new theory of boredom that accounts for past scientific work, and shows that boredom isn't bad, or good - it's a signal. Like pain, it's not pleasant, but it gives people important information about their lives. Boredom isn't bad, but how we respond to that signal matters. Short-term solutions, like alcohol and drug use, may work temporarily, but do nothing to fix the underlying problems a person is experiencing - and thus can't fix boredom in the long run.
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This page is a summary of: Boring thoughts and bored minds: The MAC model of boredom and cognitive engagement., Psychological Review, July 2018, American Psychological Association (APA),
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