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Boredom, Depression, and Degenerative Brain Diseases

Is Boredom a Psychological Disorder?


Colleen Merrifield and James Danckert have conducted extensive research concerning characterization of boredom in their article “Characterizing the Psychophysiological Signature of Boredom” (

They purpose of their study was to explore the signature of the subjective experience of boredom. They exposed 72 healthy undergraduates to standardized video clips that were selected to induce boredom, sadness, and a neutral state. Cortisol levels were measured at the arrows in Figure 1 (below).


Their experimental design tested skin conductance, heart rate, and cortisol levels while the undergraduates were watching each video. They hypothesized from previous studies that there was a directional fractionation of autonomic response to boredom that could be measured though heart rate (HR) and skin conductance level (SCL). More specifically, HR and SCL should decrease when attention is focused externally, but HR should increase and SCL should decrease if attention is focused internally. From several of these complex variations between HR and SCL with attention and focus, Merrifield and Danckert determined that one might expect to see an increase in HR and decrease in SCL if boredom is connected with inattention and internal focus; however, both HR and SCL should decrease is boredom is associated with external focus.

The results of their study indicated that boredom yields a “dynamic psychophysiological [response]” that differed significantly from other emotional states. The signature of boredom relative to sadness “was characterized by rising HR, decreased SCL, and increased cortisol levels.” These findings may help resolve differing conceptualizations of boredom in present literature and ultimately enhance the treatment and understanding of clinical maladies in which self-reported boredom is a prominent aspect.

As reported in Table 2 (below), participants’ responses during the boring, sad, and interesting videos were associated with lower HRs, cortisol levels, and higher SCL when compared to the baseline, as well as increased arousal. Although boredom and sadness are two different psychophysiological states, we may still be able to use boredom as a tool to overcome depression because it is a prominent and integral symptom of depression. However, since sadness is a “basic” emotion, and depression is comprised of a variety of affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects, it is not guaranteed that it will be able to completely “cure” individuals of their depression. It may provide important progress into the insight of what makes up depression, and non-medicated options in which to treat it, as well as other psychophysiological disorders.


Additionally, a practical understanding of how boredom may be related to, or differ from, similar emotional states would greatly expand research on human emotion, which is relatively unexplored. It may also aid our understanding of clinical syndromes that are difficult to treat, and in which boredom is a typical symptom (i.e. depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder).

What Causes Depression?


It is evident that depression is caused by a combination of malfunctions with the structures of the brain, deficiencies/excesses of certain neurotransmitters, as well as individual history.

So, how do neurotransmitters transmit information in the brain, and how could they cause depression or other manic disorders? These particles travel between synapses in the brain, which cause different parts of the brain to release chemicals, hormones, etc. Brain cells produce a certain amount of neurotransmitters that keep movement, mood, learning, and senses at a “normal” level. In individuals who are manic or extremely depressed, this system malfunctions; for example, the receptors may be inaccessible or oversensitive to certain neurotransmitters, which causes their response to its release to be abnormal.


The thalamus receives vast amounts of sensory information, and relays it to the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex directs speech, movement, learning, thinking, and other high-level functions. Some studies indicate that bipolar disorder may branch from malfunctions in the thalamus, which would cause defects in the link between sensory input to unpleasant and pleasant feelings.

The hippocampus has an integral role in processing long-term memory and recollection. Interchange between the amygdala and hippocampus is thought to account for our ability to learn from past experiences. In some depressed individuals, the hippocampus can be 9-13% smaller; ongoing exposure to stress hormone impairs the growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, further preventing recovery.

The amygdala is associated with emotions such as pleasure, anger, sorrow, sexual arousal, and fear. It is activated when an individual recalls emotionally charged memories; amygdala activity is higher when a person is clinically depressed or sad. This elevated activity often continues after recovery from depression.

The following link ( helps to realistically visualize how another brain disease, Alzheimer’s, destroys certain aspects of brain function. It also breaks down which specific parts of the brain do what, in much greater detail than outlined above.

Tramautic brain injury, boredom, and depression

Yael Goldberg and James Danckert’s research, “Traumatic Brain Injury, Boredom, and Depression” ( explores the relationship between boredom and depression in a group of individuals with moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), mild TBI, and healthy controls. Their results suggest that the connection between boredom and depression is strongest with moderate-severe TBI individuals, as well as a strong connection between boredom and depression (across all 3 groups), as shown in Figure 1.

Goldberg and Danckert also discovered that the need for stimulation from the external environment was the integral driver in the relation between boredom and depression (which was again strongest in the moderate-severe TBI group). Their results indicated that a failure to satisfy the need for external stimulation was a common factor underlying boredom and depression; this disconnect was most strongly represented in moderate-severe TBI individuals.


Goldberg indicates that the findings might have propositions for the treatment of generalized depression and brain injury. One proposed therapeutic approach is “behavioural activation therapy”, which entails engaging the patient with self-generated goals with positive reinforcement given for achievement of said goals.

Although their research was extremely thorough, Goldberg and Danckert say that there are important steps in the future of this research, which could include following the development of each “affective state” over time in individuals with varying degrees of TBI. Another step is utilizing structural and practical neuroimaging techniques (such as Diffusion Tensor Imaging) to determine the fundamental bases of boredom and depression in the population they monitored.

Boredom: Clue to Alzheimer’s


Scientists at MIT may have found a way to stimulate an individual’s ability to recover long-term memory. Their new research suggests that expelling boredom may aid memory recovery in patients with degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s (

Dr Li-Huei Tsai’s experiment consisted of observing mice with artificially stimulated Alzheimer’s-like ailments when placed in “an enriched environment”. They were given things such as “an exercise treadmill, an array of colourful toys with various shapes and textures that were changed daily, and the companionship of other mice.” When subjected to memory tests, the stimulated mice were more efficient than those who were placed in bare cages. The mice in stimulated environments also had the ability to recover their long-term memories, even after weeks of training. Although their tests were conducted on mice, there is evidence that environmental stimulation also recovers long-term memories in humans.

An unfortunate fact of elderly individuals is that they are often placed in nursing homes, and they are not interacted with as people; their caretakers just view them as helpless children who can’t do anything on their own, and have no independent thought. In environments like these, those with Alzheimer’s often retreat to their own minds and enter a comatose state. The study previously mentioned that there is a strong correlation between stimulation and long-term memory recovery, but they have only tested this in mice. 

In the following video it is evident that audio stimulation helped this man, Henry, emerge from his comatose state (, he is very quiet and doesn’t interact with those around him; Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist describes Henry as an individual with possible depression and Alzheimer’s. After Henry hears the music he is very willing to answer questions and is quite articulate. It appears as though he has the capability of recovering his long-term memory when he is asked questions about his favorite songs, and his past. Henry’s case provides hope and evidence that external stimulation has the ability to draw people out of their mental diseases, and aid in long-term memory recovery in humans.



As seen through much clinical research, it is evident that there is a way to connect boredom and other brain diseases, psychological maladies, and traumatic brain damage. Perhaps complex neurological issues such as Alzheimer’s and depression have an aspect of boredom layered with their other symptoms; if we find a way to combat boredom in these, and other, degenerative brain diseases/injuries.

Since the field human emotion is relatively unexplored, it is quite possible to discover emotional links (or defects in these links) in mental disorders which could lead to non-medicinal treatments for a plethora of diseases. Overall, it seems that stimulation and genuine interaction with individuals has the capability of returning their long-term memory recovery, pushing away some degenerative brain diseases, and aiding in a plethora of other degenerative brain disorders.



Crime, School, and Parenting Correlations

Why do people commit crimes?

Ferrell says “criminal or criminalized groups busily inventing experiences that variously violate the modernist project of boredom.” The skill and excitement of crime embraces the time period in which modernist rationality did not exist. This drive back to instincts and in-the-moment activity draws people in; crime offers individuals an escape from the monotonous schedule of everyday and the boredom that comes with it. Illicit activities are usually not boring because they “recapture…the lost immediacy of self-made human experience”. This suggests that human involvement is essential to overcome boredom, and illegal activities do this by recapturing the experience. In the beginning of his article, Theoretical Criminology, Ferrell poses an interesting question. Do people commit crimes, not against others or property, but against boredom? Raoul Vaneigem offers some insight to this question in The Revolution of Everyday Life. He says, “Anyone who has felt the drive to self-destruction welling up inside him knows with what weary negligence he might one day happen to kill the organizers of his boredom.” This suggests that crime is indeed committed against people, but specifically against organizers of boredom.

Boredom, Crime, and Criminology

Jeff Ferrell’s article Theoretical Criminology (

explores the undercurrents of rebellion as the force against boredom. He says that boredom has pervaded everyday life, since our experience of it is monotonous. In order to repel this collective boredom experienced by the whole of society, illicit excitement, which he defines as “ephemeral crimes committed against boredom itself”, and political/cultural rebellions are employed. Another buttress against boredom are the analytic abstraction and methodologies of modern criminology; criminology itself is considered a rebellion with intellectual excitement and human engagement. Thus, it seems as though illicit activities and intellectual stimulation are the only things that can combat the boredom. However, it also seems as though boredom can lead to violent crimes. Read this before going on:


For example, these three boys were charged with first-degree murder of a college baseball player. He was just jogging when one of them said, “There’s our target”. When they were questioned afterwards, they said, “We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody.” If illicit activity is meant to contest boredom, then what will Ferrell think about this event, when boredom caused illicit activity? Is it any form of illegal activity acceptable, as long as it is a response to boredom? What if instead of crimes combatting boredom, boredom causes crimes? Who is to say which is the cause, and which is the aftereffect? 

The police chief who reported in regards to this event said, “[it’s] alarming that we’re seeing those types of crimes…I don’t think it’s unique. It’s something we’re starting to see nationwide.” If we want to combat crime, then maybe it is necessary to combat boredom first. If we install recreation areas and parks, then perhaps the teenage crime rates will go down. Or, if the government could make the education system more efficient and less boring, then teenage crime rates would go down.

Boredom in School & Prison

Ivan Chtcheglov said, “A mental disease has swept the planet: banalization . . . as all the reasons for passion disappear.” If boredom is considered a mental disease, and it is so widespread, it is even possible to overcome it? As Ferrell mentioned in his article, intellectual stimulation is also another way to combat boredom. How is it that public schools are often a cesspool for boredom, instead of academic inspiration? Ferrell goes on to contradict himself by saying, “public schools emerge as training centers for the new boredom, rehearsal halls for the sublimation of individuality to disciplined efficiency… the prison, the juvenile lockup offer entire institutions dedicated to the enforcement of tedium.”

By saying that public schools are just institutionalized boredom, “dedicated to the enforcement of tedium”, it seems the only thing against this is to launch a revolution. Ferrell’s talking about a political revolution, but there are layers to every revolution; the individuals who are part of this contemporary revolution are students and convicts. They revolt by getting involved in explicit things, more often than not, since they appear more interesting and they give them a drive, since (unfortunately) most public schools don’t stimulate or challenge students enough. The weird connection is that there are aspects of both prisons and schools that oppose boredom: illegal activity and cerebral stimulus. However, in reality, they are breeding grounds for boredom. What is wrong with these systems, especially public school, is that they don’t realize they could become the most interesting aspects of society, instead of banal structures.

 Dropouts, Juvenile Delinquency, and Changing Schools

The statistics in Yvonne Roberts article “BOREDOM ACCOUNTS FOR TEENAGE CRIME” ( analyzes the ubiquity of juvenile delinquency in the UK in percentages of crimes done by repeat offenders. She also relates dropouts to juvenile delinquency. The centers in which crimes rates are high are also areas in which dropout percentages are high.

Schools realized a long time ago that the education system was flawed. Ferrell says that certain schools realized, by the 1940s, that that, “boredom and its mass-made alternatives formed a closed circle of control, an ever-spinning cycle of empty consumption.” Since schools have become nothing more than centers of boredom, locked in an endless cycle of “empty consumption”, then it is no surprise that people drop out. However, there must be some incentives that could be employed in order to increase the retention rates of schools nationwide.



The diagram above illustrates what dropouts wanted in the education system—relating to high school as well as college, and what would have prevented them from dropping out, and would help them graduate. This diagram shows that all of the proposed changes heavily involve students to actively participate, or require some sort of push from the instructors and parents to hold the students accountable for their own education. Based on this information, from Roberts and the diagram, it is clear that in order to make the educational system more efficient at educating students, and keeping them there, it must become student based. Right now, students are shuffled into a large room with upwards of 300 of their peers, talked at for several hours, and then expected to master the information on our own, outside of class. When other Pitt students completed their OMET surveys and were asked what they put as “improvement for the class”, it seemed that more student involvement, as well as interaction with the professor and material in a unique way were the major changes in a class which would contribute to their educations.

Boredom Relieved by Work

Ferrell also relates boredom to work. At first, work appears as a sort of relief to the “crush of modern boredom”. As time goes on, work appears more and more “visceral, all the more unbearable…[full of] unrequited promises of mass-produced excitement accumulate… and … participation becomes just another cheap con.” Relating to Kracauer, work relieves boredom, but only to a slight degree; it seems as though working and being bored by a job is a morally acceptable way to be bored, instead of being bored due to nothing. Kracauer also comments on this by saying that a work ethic appears as a sort of “moral veil…people whose duties occasionally make them yawn may be less boing than those who do their business by inclination”. It seems as though he’s saying that people choose the lesser of two evils by choosing to be bored by their job instead of being bored by a lack of stimulation.

What happens when work becomes boring?

So, why do people still put up with schools? For the promise of a job, which could fill the void of mental inactivity. Kracauer says that we get jobs in order, “to provides a moral veil for their occupation and at least affords them a certain moral erring oneself and ethical being dispels every type of boredom.” As mentioned before, jobs are an acceptable area of boredom.

The main question is how does work become boring, when it is meant to alleviate boredom? According to Ferrell, the boredom relating to a job isn’t a side effect. It comes from “dehumanizing processes and fraudulent promises” that jobs are based upon; they are boring because they force people to act systematically and destroy possibility and skill in the process. Jobs such as these are “devoid of the uncertainty and surprise that comes with human creativity”; the human possibility in these jobs is destroyed because they do not call for any sort of skill or chance. Jobs that need some sort of interaction or creativity on the workers part are, according to Ferrell, successful and truly combat boredom. Unfortunately the majority of jobs today, such as working in the IRS, require humans to become systematic, and create work that is devoid of any human interaction.


Michael Jones goes to school and drifts through the day, extremely bored with the whole idea of school. He doesn’t care about anything because no matter how hard he works, it doesn’t seem as though things are getting better. He gives up around May because he’s become apathetic towards even trying; he’s bored of getting the same results, even when he asks his teachers for help. His family doesn’t even seem to notice that anything is wrong with him. He tires of the world around him—it’s not challenging in any way, so he feel as though there’s no reason to keep trying.

There are no connections to his parents, since he only sees them when the kiss him on the head and then head out to work in the morning. When they come back, he’s already asleep, and the dinner he’s made for them just sits on the table. There’s no one to hold him accountable in the slums of LA, so he walks around the corner to his house and sees a bunch of kids his age and one of the seniors, Phillip, who has known associations with the gang huddled around each other, whispering. It seems interesting, and he has nothing else to do, so he joins them.

As Phillip describes what he would do for the gang, it starts to seem more exciting than his everyday life, so he agrees to become a lackey for the gang. Michael just delivers messages to the other kids in the school, and tries to get some of the other sophomores to join by saying that it makes life so much easier. They don’t have to study, just walk around and do what Phillip tells them to do. It’s such an easy way to make money. Once Michael has enough money, he can move out of his parent’s house, and not think about them ever again.

As he climbs the ranks from a delivery boy and begins to meet the other members of the gang, he sees that the higher-ups get pretty amazing perks like nice cars, women, and it doesn’t seem like they’re even working that hard. His life is filled with purpose again—he wants to be in the top of this gang, so he works harder and harder- there’s no empty space in his mind, no more boredom with school, since it doesn’t even take that much to satisfy his teachers. He’s filled up the emptiness with the excitement and ambition and drive that he never had before. Nothing ever challenged him, and now this is a challenge—to get to the top, to show his parents that he never needed their help anyway. 

Parental Involvement Combatting Teenage Crime

The article Poverty, Parenting, Peers and Crime-Prone Neighbourhoods by Don Weatherburn and Bronwyn Lind focuses on the elements of poverty and parenting in relation to the crime-prone neighborhoods of Australia. The data from this article shows significant correlations between neglect and juvenile crime in certain areas. For example, the graphs from the article (shown below), indicate that neglect and crime rates are directly connected; the rests of Weatherburn’s data suggests a significance of lessening juvenile crime by increasing familial support as well as parenting skills.



Teens are resorting to violence because they are bored. They need parental figures in their lives in order to maintain a semblance of control and normalcy, and to have some ties to their lives. Unless they have positive role models in their lives, they will continue with stupid, reckless behavior, and not care who gets hurt in the end. The involvement from their parents will hold them accountable for their actions.

It is difficult for parents to become involved in their children’s lives because, in our contemporary society, it is easy to get lost in the desire to get money, because that’s what society focuses on. Thus, parents don’t come home, and their presence is integral in their child’s lives. Also, as Kracauer said, we fill boredom with things like work. We also work because in order to live a comfortable life in this society, people need to work to make money, and it’s a morally acceptable route for boredom. However, it also obvious that work can cause boredom because of its dehumanizing and not very interactive nature.

In the end, it seems as though boredom is inescapable, and it is only possible to get a taste of the times before modernist rationality, in which we were deeply involved in everything that we did, through crime and intellectual stimulation as forms of rebellion. Involvement from all fronts (parental, schools, and individual) seems to be the only plausible uniting factor to combat boredom/juvenile crime. If everyone took a step back and tried to get involved with things that genuinely interested them, maybe it would be a simple solution to many problems. 


When you usually plan a vacation, you are filled with excitement of the future memories, good food, and experiences that will occur. However, since it’s not possible to teleport to locations, there are intermediates that we must use in order to get to our desired locations.

Most people think that long car rides are tedious, or that buses that ship you from location to location are tedious. I think that planes are the worst way of travel; there are an innumerable amount of ways in which you could get stuck and helpless for hours and hours, with no way to change your fate.

Between the space of being at your home and at your desired location are the hours spent traveling to and from this location. More often than not, these periods of time drag on, and seem unbearable. Another rule to these times in terminals or on aircraft is that there is no way to escape these unending periods of time.

The most frequent locations in which these long intervals of boredom occur are: waiting for a flight to arrive, sitting on the runway & waiting for your turn to take off, waiting for a delayed flight, waiting in line for baggage claim, waiting in line the check your bag in security, etc. The common theme with being bored at an airport/in a plane is waiting.

We are so accustomed to the fast-paced, instant gratification, now now now world that we live in that waiting and just relaxing in the minute bore us so easily. We do not want to wait for the plane, we do not want to wait to get our bags, and we want everything now because…?

It is almost certain that everyone thinks that his or her time is precious. One could say that we are vain creatures who place themselves above others in regards to individual value. It is a disgusting thing that we do, and we usually do it based on outward appearances, which typically reflect nothing about the actual individual’s worth. We get bored of waiting for a flight because we think that our precious time is being wasted when we could employ is doing something more beneficial, such as increasing melanin production in skin cells.

Do we get bored in periods of inactivity and no stimulation simply because we do not want to think of what we could be doing? During lapses of time, like whilst waiting for a flight, in which we become bored we essentially inactivate our brains by zoning out, daydreaming, or not thinking at all. Perhaps we do this to avoid thinking of the paradise waiting for us once we get our bags, or the view of the sun peeking over cotton candy clouds. Maybe boredom at airports protects us from thinking about the final destination too much. If we overthink, we hope too much. We make impossible speculations of what this place is going to be like, and it cannot hope to live up to expectations. Boredom allows us to experience situations with more novelty and enjoyment than if we thought of them all the time. Maybe boredom is not as terrible as we think it is; its literal mind-numbing capabilities keep us from getting our hopes to high, but it also reveals the disgusting fact that we value our time over others.