Boredom

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A souvenir seller appears bored as she waits for customers.

Boredom is an emotional state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, and not interested in their surroundings. The first recorded use of the word boredom is in the novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens, written in 1852,[1] in which it appears six times, although the expression to be a bore had been used in print in the sense of "to be tiresome or dull" since 1768.[2] The French term for boredom, ennui, is sometimes used in English as well.

Psychology

Boredom by Gaston de La Touche, 1893

Boredom has been defined by Cynthia D. Fisher in terms of its main central psychological processes: "an unpleasant, transient affective state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest and difficulty concentrating on the current activity."[3] Mark Leary et al. describe boredom as "an affective experience associated with cognitive attentional processes."[4] In positive psychology, boredom is described as a response to a moderate challenge for which the subject has more than enough skill.[5]

There are three types of boredom, all of which involve problems of engagement of attention. These include times when we are prevented from engaging in wanted activity, when we are forced to engage in unwanted activity, or when we are simply unable for no apparent reason to maintain engagement in any activity or spectacle.[6] Boredom proneness is a tendency to experience boredom of all types. This is typically assessed by the Boredom Proneness Scale.[7] Recent research has found that boredom proneness is clearly and consistently associated with failures of attention.[8] Boredom and its proneness are both theoretically and empirically linked to depression and similar symptoms.[9][10][11] Nonetheless, boredom proneness has been found to be as strongly correlated with attentional lapses as with depression.[9] Although boredom is often viewed as a trivial and mild irritant, proneness to boredom has been linked to a very diverse range of possible psychological, physical, educational, and social problems.[12]

Philosophy

Boredom is a condition characterized by perception of one's environment as dull, tedious, and lacking in stimulation. This can result from leisure and a lack of aesthetic interests. Labor, however, and even art may be alienated and passive, or immersed in tedium. There is an inherent anxiety in boredom; people will expend considerable effort to prevent or remedy it, yet in many circumstances, it is accepted as suffering to be endured. Common passive ways to escape boredom are to sleep or to think creative thoughts (daydream). Typical active solutions consist in an intentional activity of some sort, often something new, as familiarity and repetition lead to the tedious.

1916 Rea Irvin illustration depicting a bore putting her audience to sleep

Boredom also plays a role in existentialist thought. In contexts where one is confined, spatially or otherwise, boredom may be met with various religious activities, not because religion would want to associate itself with tedium, but rather, partly because boredom may be taken as the essential human condition, to which God, wisdom, or morality are the ultimate answers. It is taken in this sense by virtually all existentialist philosophers as well as by Arthur Schopenhauer.

Martin Heidegger wrote about boredom in two texts available in English, in the 1929/30 semester lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and again in the essay What is Metaphysics? published in the same year. In the lecture, Heidegger included about 100 pages on boredom, probably the most extensive philosophical treatment ever of the subject. He focused on waiting at railway stations in particular as a major context of boredom.[13] Søren Kierkegaard remarks in Either/Or that "patience cannot be depicted" visually, since there is a sense that any immediate moment of life may be fundamentally tedious.

Blaise Pascal in the Pensées discusses the human condition in saying "we seek rest in a struggle against some obstacles. And when we have overcome these, rest proves unbearable because of the boredom it produces", and later states that "only an infinite and immutable object – that is, God himself – can fill this infinite abyss."[14]

Without stimulus or focus, the individual is confronted with nothingness, the meaninglessness of existence, and experiences existential anxiety. Heidegger states this idea as follows: "Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole."[15] Schopenhauer used the existence of boredom in an attempt to prove the vanity of human existence, stating, "...for if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfil and satisfy us."[16]

Erich Fromm and other thinkers of critical theory speak of boredom as a common psychological response to industrial society, where people are required to engage in alienated labor. According to Fromm, boredom is "perhaps the most important source of aggression and destructiveness today." For Fromm, the search for thrills and novelty that characterizes consumer culture are not solutions to boredom, but mere distractions from boredom which, he argues, continues unconsciously.[17] Above and beyond taste and character, the universal case of boredom consists in any instance of waiting, as Heidegger noted, such as in line, for someone else to arrive or finish a task, or while one is travelling somewhere. The automobile requires fast reflexes, making its operator busy and hence, perhaps for other reasons as well, making the ride more tedious despite being over sooner.

Causes and effects

Although it has not been widely studied, research on boredom suggests that boredom is a major factor impacting diverse areas of a person's life. People ranked low on a boredom-proneness scale were found to have better performance in a wide variety of aspects of their lives, including career, education, and autonomy.[18] Boredom can be a symptom of clinical depression. Boredom can be a form of learned helplessness, a phenomenon closely related to depression. Some philosophies of parenting propose that if children are raised in an environment devoid of stimuli, and are not allowed or encouraged to interact with their environment, they will fail to develop the mental capacities to do so.

In a learning environment, a common cause of boredom is lack of understanding; for instance, if one is not following or connecting to the material in a class or lecture, it will usually seem boring. However, the opposite can also be true; something that is too easily understood, simple or transparent, can also be boring. Boredom is often inversely related to learning, and in school it may be a sign that a student is not challenged enough, or too challenged. An activity that is predictable to the students is likely to bore them.[19]

A 1989 study indicated that an individual's impression of boredom may be influenced by the individual's degree of attention, as a higher acoustic level of distraction from the environment correlated with higher reportings of boredom.[20]

Boredom has been studied as being related to drug abuse among teens.[21] Boredom has been proposed as a cause of pathological gambling behavior. A study found results consistent with the hypothesis that pathological gamblers seek stimulation to avoid states of boredom and depression.[22]

In popular culture

In Chapter 18 of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), the character Lord Henry Wotton says to a young Dorian Gray: "The only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness." Procol Harum, John Sebastian, Iggy Pop, the Deftones, Buzzcocks, and Blink-182 have all written songs with boredom mentioned in the title. Other songs about boredom and activities people turn to when bored include Green Day's song "Longview", System of a Down's "Lonely Day", and Bloodhound Gang's "Mope". Douglas Adams depicted a robot named Marvin the Paranoid Android whose boredom appeared to be the defining trait of his existence in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The 1969 Vocational Guidance Counsellor sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus established a lasting stereotype of accountants as boring.[23] The Yellow Pages used to carry an entry under Boring, "See civil engineers" (referring to the "tunnelling" meaning), but this was changed in 1996 to "See sites exploration."[24]

See also

References

  1. ^ Oxford Old English Dictionary
  2. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 2013-12-06. 
  3. ^ Fisher 1993, p. 396
  4. ^ Leary, M. R., Rogers, P. A., Canfield, R. W., Coe, C. (1986). "Boredom in interpersonal encounters: Antecedents and social implications". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51 (5): 968–975, p. 968. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.51.5.968. 
  5. ^ Csikszentmihalyi, M., Finding Flow, 1997
  6. ^ Cheyne, J. A., Carriere, J. S. A., Smilek, D. (2006). "Absent-mindedness: Lapses in conscious awareness and everyday cognitive failures". Consciousness and Cognition 15 (3): 578–592. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2005.11.009. PMID 16427318. 
  7. ^ Farmer, R., Sundberg, N. D. (1986). "Boredom proneness: The development and correlates of a new scale". Journal of Personality Assessment 50 (1): 4–17. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa5001_2. PMID 3723312. 
  8. ^ Fisher, C.D. (1993). "Boredom at work: A neglected concept". Human Relations 46 (3): 395–417. doi:10.1177/001872679304600305. 
  9. ^ a b Carriere, J. S. A., Cheyne, J. A., Smilek, D. (September 2008). "Everyday Attention Lapses and Memory Failures: The Affective Consequences of Mindlessness" (PDF). Consciousness and Cognition 17 (3): 835–847. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2007.04.008. PMID 17574866. 
  10. ^ Sawin, D. A., Scerbo, M. W. (1995). "Effects of instruction type and boredom proneness in vigilance: Implications for boredom and workload". Human Factors 37 (4): 752–765. doi:10.1518/001872095778995616. PMID 8851777. 
  11. ^ Vodanovich, S. J., Verner, K. M., Gilbride, T. V. (1991). "Boredom proneness: Its relationship to positive and negative affect". Psychological Reports 69 (3 Pt 2): 1139–46. doi:10.2466/PR0.69.8.1139-1146. PMID 1792282. 
  12. ^ "Boredom: The Forgotten Factor in Fraud Prevention?". Durham University. Retrieved October 1, 2014. 
  13. ^ Martin Heidegger. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, pp. 78–164.
  14. ^ Pascal, Blaise; Ariew, Roger (2005). Pensées. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co. ISBN 978-0-87220-717-2. Retrieved 2009-07-27. 
  15. ^ Martin Heidegger, What is Metaphysics? (1929)
  16. ^ Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, Penguin Classics, ISBN 0-14-044227-8 (2004), p53 Full text available online: Google Books Search
  17. ^ Erich Fromm, "Theory of Aggression" pg.7
  18. ^ Watt, J. D., Vodanovich, S. J. (1999). "Boredom Proneness and Psychosocial Development". Journal of Psychology 133 (1): 149–155. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4679(200001)56:1<149::AID-JCLP14>3.0.CO;2-Y. 
  19. ^ Ed.gov – R.V. Small et al. Dimensions of Interest and Boredom in Instructional Situations, Proceedings of Selected Research and Development Presentations at the 1996 National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (18th, Indianapolis, IN), (1996)
  20. ^ Damrad-Frye, R; Laird JD (1989). "The experience of boredom: the role of the self-perception of attention". J Personality Social Psych 57 (2): 315–20. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.57.2.315. 
  21. ^ Iso-Ahola, Seppo E.; Crowley, Edward D. (1991). "Adolescent Substance Abuse and Leisure Boredom". Journal of Leisure Research 23 (3): 260–71. 
  22. ^ Blaszczynski A, McConaghy N, Frankova A (August 1990). "Boredom proneness in pathological gambling". Psychol Rep 67 (1): 35–42. doi:10.2466/PR0.67.5.35-42. PMID 2236416. 
  23. ^ "Learn the elementary bits about business". Financial Times. 14 October 2008. Archived from the original on 2013-01-10. 
  24. ^ Exciting times for London civil engineers, Chicago Sun Times, 23 August 1996