The experience of feeling bored can be unpleasant – and even physically painful.
It may lead to anger and definitely to frustration.
Bored people are prone to overeat, drink more heavily, and smoke more.
When We Are Feeling Bored
So how does boredom work? Firstly, people need a high level of arousal or psychological energy to feel bored. Low arousal when there is nothing to do can actually be quite relaxing.
Second, when we are unable to properly focus our attention we may blame the environment despite there actually being a lot to do. Have you ever been bored in a shopping centre – shopping centres are quite boring, right? Yet in actual fact, in most shopping centres there is actually a lot going on: there are shops to look at; people walking around; people talking or arguing. We have been unable to focus our attention on any one thing, so the shopping centre is “boring”. (Some people reading this will think the opposite, they really like shopping centres).
Boredom and Concentration
In a study by Robin Damrad-Frye and James Laird in the August, 1989 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, participants listened to a tape of a person reading an interesting (to psychology nerds) psychology article. In the next room, there was a television soundtrack from a soap opera playing; for some groups, the TV was very loud and distracting; for others it was barely noticeable; and for some it was not playing at all.
After listening to the article, people rated their boredom levels. The people who heard the barely noticeable TV rated themselves as more bored than either the ones who heard the loud TV or heard no soundtrack. The theory is that both the loud and soft TV were distracting, but for those who heard the loud TV it was clear why they were distracted from the article. Thus, they may have been frustrated with the noise, but they were not bored. Those who heard the soft soundtrack had difficulty concentrating, but they were not sure why, and so they attributed this difficulty to boredom.
Bored people can become aware of their difficulty concentrating. As a result, bored people often try to amuse themselves by daydreaming and letting their mind wander. Interestingly, while mind wandering helps people to keep their minds occupied, studies suggest that the more a person’s mind wanders, the more bored they feel. The idea is that you recognise that this daydreaming is meant to occupy your mind, and so you realise that the situation is boring.
Boredom and Control
One more key element of boredom is control. Boredom often occurs when you have little control over your situation – for example, in waiting rooms, lectures, and airline gates. Normally, we react to unpleasant situations by changing the situation. If we don’t like a book we are reading, for example, we close it and do something else. Boredom happens when we are unable to change the situation.
Finally, a real problem caused by boredom is that it leads you to dislike the things that are the object of boredom. I find watching tennis to be boring. I played it a lot when I was younger but I could never and can never watch it, tennis: it is just too boring.
What to Do When You are Feeling Bored
What can you do if you are feeling bored? Obviously, there are times when you are stuck. If you are listening to a lecture that you cannot leave, then you just need to find a way to get through it. When you have some control, though, use your understanding of boredom to help you out.
If you can, try to do a meditation exercise to lower your arousal level. If you can lower your arousal, it will help you to feel less bored.
Also, keep some music handy. Music you enjoy can crowd out distractions in the environment. It can also influence your mood in positive ways, to counteract the pain of being bored.
Feeling bored on a regular basis can become a psychological issue as it can cause painful experiences, or adversely affect work or school. A discussion with a psychologist may help you identify what is making you bored, and may also help with some solutions to make you feel better!
Author: Dr David Wells, B Psych (Hons), Dip Prof Couns, D Psych (Clin Geropsychology).
David is a Clinical Psychologist, with a wealth of experience. He strives to provide a safe environment for his clients to explore their issues and, with assistance, develop new techniques which will help them change their unproductive behaviours. The aim is to have a happier life that assists people reach their relationship, personal and life goals.
Dr David Wells is currently on extended leave. If you would like to book with an alternative clinician with similar expertise, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- Psychology Today. Art Markman. What is Boredom? Retrieved from website.
- Damrad-Frye, & J.D. Laird. The experience of boredom: The role of the self-perception of attention (1989). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2, 315 – 320.
- Eastwood., A. Frischen, M. Fenske, & D. Smilek. The Unengaged Mind: defining boredom in terms of attention (2012). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 482 – 495.