All posts by tgv32014

Investigating the Psychological Causes of Boredom

A Psychological Problem

Boredom can impact people in a variety of ways, affecting elements such as their mental and physical state. Psychologists now pay more attention to this phenomenon as they realize that it is a growing problem among people of all ages. They seek an answer to the root of this problem in order to better understand and deal with the predominant issues that they often see in bored individuals, however, psychologists still struggle to find the psychological base of boredom. Some of the usual effects of this disinterest include feelings of discomfort, anxiety, helplessness, and apathy, which originate in a person’s mind. I believe that there are two theories that can account for a person’s feelings and actions when bored, cognitive dissonance and reactance.

 

On the Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Boredom

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a person experiences discomfort or anxiety due to apprehension of moral conflicts between their actions and beliefs. These unpleasant emotions are consistent with what a person might feel when bored. When someone is doing something boring, they want to do something else and often think of other things that would be time better spent. This causes a feeling of discomfort to develop in the person. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that because this person’s actions don’t reflect his or her beliefs, he or she will attempt to minimize the emotional discomfort by modifying either their actions or thoughts. The most common way of reducing dissonance is to justify one’s actions, which can be done in several ways. We tend to either change out beliefs to fit our actions, change our actions to fit our beliefs, or make excuses and blame an external source.

 

It’s One or the Other

Modifying actions to fit one’s beliefs is the truest way to reduce dissonance. In this way, one can alleviate the uneasy feelings they experience because they can link their actions to their beliefs without comprising their morals. In the case of boredom, a person could be motivated by the unpleasant feelings that he or she experiences, stimulating the need for variation in activity. For example, at a mundane office job, getting up to take a walk can be therapeutic and reduce anxiety for a short duration because he or she doesn’t want to be sitting at a desk. Most of the time, this results in a short break from boredom and renewed interest.

 

Changing an existing belief to fit actions also decreases dissonance because it makes beliefs and actions more consistent with each other. This method is more complex than changing actions. A belief is most likely to be altered when an individual has no strong feelings about it or if a situation challenges that belief in a hard to counteract way. Take for example a person entering a discussion that they haven’t encountered before. If at first this person thought that the topic in question would be boring, to reduce his or her dissonance, he or she will change his or her attitudes and believe that the topic is interesting.

 

A State of Irritation and Inattention

The following are the thoughts of a student sitting in a boring college class. It seems like an increasing amount of students find their classes boring, and they aren’t afraid to show it.

 

Why am I here? I don’t want to be here, but I’m determined to try to get something out of this class today. 75 minutes.

 

I never learn anything in this class; it’s half a review from Chemistry 1, even though this is Chemistry 2. Might as well call it Advance Chemistry 1. 70 minutes.

 

I’m so bored that I don’t feel like paying attention. I could be doing more productive things with my time. 65 minutes.

 

I feel uncomfortable with how I’m spending time. I’m bored. 60 minutes.

 

I wonder what’s new on Twitter. 60 minutes

 

Well, nothing on Twitter, time to play Candy Crush. 55 minutes

 

Wow, she’s still talking about the Chemistry 1 topic that she was ten minutes ago. It feels like it’s been twenty minutes. I’m leaving. 45 minutes

 

Here, the student is changing his actions to be more consistent with his thoughts. He believes that the class is boring and he could be doing better things with his time, so he decides to leave.

 

It’s Not My Fault

After another company took over his company, Jack was unemployed. He sat at home every day combing through job search engines in search of work. Six months later, he couldn’t believe that no company would hire him despite his credentials. He felt trapped and bored by the same routine every day that yielded no results. His expectations led him to believe that he should have a job, but he was never contacted by any businesses. In his mind, he didn’t want to sit at home continuing this jobless trend without anything interesting to do, but he couldn’t help it. “It’s not my fault,” he insisted. At first, he blamed his boredom on the poor economy and thin job market to make himself feel better about not working. He was sure that when the economy turned around, he would be able to find a job and be free of his cyclical schedule. However, when the economy did recover, he still couldn’t find a job. He found that his anxiety returned and sought a way to get rid of it again. Now he thought that he couldn’t find a job because the employers were stupid and didn’t recognize a good worker. Jack’s apprehensive feeling went away after two weeks of asserting that employers didn’t know what a good worker was. Six months later, Jack finally found a job in an office with a local company. He continues to work for this company and doesn’t feel discomfort anymore when thinking about his employment. This situation is unique in that it is an instance where excuses are made to justify the difference between their beliefs and actions.

 

On Reactance

Reactance occurs when an individual perceives a threat to his or her freedom. When this happens, people often overcompensate in their actions to relieve the unwanted feelings of irritation and helplessness. Often, these actions are impulsive and sometimes harmful. When people experience boredom, they feel like it takes away their freedom and as a result, they act on this in a way similar to cognitive dissonance. However, there is a distinction between the way reactance and cognitive dissonance stimulate a response. Dissonance causes a reaction to reduce stressed feelings, whereas reactance causes one to take back a lost freedom.

 

You Can Learn (Some) From Commercials

Click here to watch

About a year ago, DirecTV launched an advertising campaign to promote their satellite TV over cable TV. Part of these commercials involves a chain reaction of events that escalate quickly into something unpleasant. This commercial, while comical, illustrates reactance. The man feels trapped by the cable company, and his need to not feel trapped leads to a series of events that ends with his dad getting punched over a can of soup. This parallels boredom because it often evokes a feeling of restriction. Some may do anything to escape this apathy, and, in their efforts, cause unwanted consequences, such as your dad getting punched over a can of soup.

 

Well That Escalated Quickly- A Commercial Screenplay

INT. APARTMENT- DIMMLEY LIT

 

A middle-aged man sits on a couch in his living room. He seems tired and frustrated.

 

NARRATOR (V.O.)

When you feel bored, you feel restricted. When you feel restricted you want to feel free.

INT. GARAGE- DAYTIME

 

The man get into his black Dodge Charger and backs out of the garage into the daylight.

NARRATOR (V.O.)

When you want to feel free you visit the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

 

EXT. INDEPEDENCE HALL IN PHILADELPHIA- DAYTIME

The man is touring Independence Hall and sees the Liberty Bell across the street.

 

NARRATOR (V.O.)

When you visit the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, you also want to visit the Liberty Bell.

 

INT. LIBERTY BELL BUILDING- DAYTIME

 

The man walks around the Liberty Bell, admiring it.

 

NARRATOR (V.O.)

When you visit the Liberty Bell, you want to touch the Liberty Bell.

 

The man touches the Liberty Bell and security guards chase him.

 

NARRATOR (V.O.)

When you touch the Liberty Bell you run away to avoid arrest.

 

INT. OFFICE BUILDING- WELL LIT

 

At an office that looks like the DMV the man, disguised in a hat and sunglasses, is handed a new ID by the employee behind the desk.

 

NARRATOR (V.O.)

When you avoid arrest you change your name to Cliff Stevenson.

 

EXT. BUSY CITY STREET- DAYTIME

 

A group of dangerous looking men walk around the city with a picture of the man. They are trying to find him.

 

NARRATOR (V.O.)

When you change your name to Cliff Stevenson, you make Cliff Stevenson’s enemies.

 

EXT. AN ALLEY- DAYTIME

 

The man runs into an alley, followed by the group of dangerous looking

 

NARRATOR (V.O.)

When you make Cliff Stevenson’s enemies, they find you and punch your face.

The camera does a close up of the man lying against the alley wall with a bruised face.

 

NARRATOR (V.O.)

Don’t let Cliff Stevenson’s enemies find you and punch you in the face.

 

This shows the lengths that people will sometimes go to become free from boredom. Sometimes, these lengths are extreme and lead to unwanted consequences.

 

The Phenomenon of Boredom

Marion Martin, Gaynor Sadlo, and Graham Stew conducted a qualitative study of boredom. They studied accounts of boredom in both the work and home environment. With these accounts, they constructed a chart describing the situation, what the participants felt, and how they chose to deal with their boredom (an important detail to understand about this phenomenon). This chart is found below.

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I find it interesting that while the anecdote of the situation changed depending on the setting, the emotions that the participants experienced were the same. The study also shows that it is possible escape states of disinterest by doing other things. I will look more closely at the two described experiences of feeling trapped and feeling guilty about wasting time, and how the participants attempted to alleviate their boredom.

 

The participants who described their boredom as being trapped also reported frustration, and in some cases, depression. One participant described his experience at home as being a caged animal that is stressed and wants to escape. Those who were bored at work most often felt frustration and found it hard to concentrate. These participants felt that they lost their freedom and wanted it back.

 

Feelings of guilt developed in some people who couldn’t manage their time and as a result fell into a cycle of repetition. These participants understood that they should do something productive, however, they couldn’t find something that they believed was worthwhile and productive. This led to feelings of dissonance and guilt.

 

There were two participants in the study who didn’t experience any boredom. One participant learned to meditate at a young age and swore off drugs and alcohol. The other participant found pleasure in simple things and was therefore always entertained. These are rare occurrences but they offer insight into boredom. These cases suggest that internal discipline is an important attribute to have when dealing with boredom. Further, internal discipline can be learned, and therefore one can learn not to be bored. This points to a possible method in which boredom can be treated.

 

Martin, Sadlo, and Stew also determined the main strategy that people used to counter apathy. They found that the most common method during unstructured time at home was to find something else to do. However, this lead to feelings of guilt because they were wasting time by doing random things around the house such as making a snack. It is interesting to note that that doing physical exercise decreased boredom and produced less guilt than other activities because the person was doing something they perceived to be meaningful and healthy. In other settings and situations, they discovered that the diversion tactics that participants used depend on individual preference. One person may find doodling to be liberating, while another might find conversing with a co-worker to be relaxing.

Putting It All Together

The root causes of the feelings associated with boredom stem from cognitive dissonance and reactance. People feel cognitive dissonance when they are in a state of mental idleness because they want to be doing something that isn’t boring, but they can’t find anything better to do. This leads to feelings associated with boredom, such as anxiety, helplessness, irritation, and apathy. Reactance occurs when a person feels restricted by their monotony because they can’t escape it. The person feels helpless and can become irritated. On occasion, people will act out in ways that may be destructive.

There are several ways that one can go about breaking out of boredom. Some methods, such as physical exercise, are more efficient than others, such as switching to another task. Inefficient ways of coping with this affliction may cause feelings of guilt because a person mismanages his or her time. This increases dissonance and leads to more disinterest. In rare cases, it is possible to become immune to boredom by disciplining oneself. It takes practice to get to this point, and few people are able to reach it.

Boredom is a common problem that at this time has no permanent solution and many temporary solutions. Many people study and theorize boredom, but it still persists. The more we know about this unpleasant feeling, the better we can confront and cope with it.

Technology, Leisure Time, and Today

 

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A Paradox in Society

 

            Boredom in today’s society is a growing problem. No matter how much people have at their disposal, they still manage to find themselves looking for other things to do. They claim that nothing seems interesting and that they are bored. There are two prevalent theories among many that explain this phenomenon: technology and free time. While related, these two theories can stand independent of each other as well.

 

            Today’s technology facilitates many daily activities and saves people time throughout the day. The smartphone is a prime example of this. In a few minutes, a person can check the time; see if they received any texts, phone calls, emails; check Facebook and Twitter; and now some people can even turn off their living room lights or set their security alarm if they forget. While this saves valuable time in today’s society, it can also be the root of boredom, which stems from the concept of time management and leisure. When people are able to accomplish many tasks quickly, it can lead to the creation of free time. When free time is not approached in the correct manner, it can become a problem that sinks a person into boredom.

 

Time is important in society. There are countless websites that give time-saving tips. By googling “time-saving tips”, a large amount of tips are made available at the stroke of the return key. MSN.com created a list of 40 time-saving tips for those who wish to have more free time. These tips can be found at http://living.msn.com/life-inspired/40-time-saving-tips-to-help-you-save-an-hour-a-day. The most interesting tip to me is tip #30: get a treadmill desk. This tip attempts to make time for the busy businessperson who has no time to exercise. While a good idea on paper, I believe that this idea doesn’t translate to reality. It amazes me that people would spend money on this. I don’t think that there is a big market for a treadmill desk and that it is a bad idea.

 

On the Effects of Technology

 

            The severity of time mismanagement seems to increase in subsequent generations. More often it seems like children are spending an increasing amount of time on electronic devices. These devices serve the purpose of passing time or allowing them to complete a large amount of tasks in a small amount of time. When their time with the device is done, they’re lost and don’t know what to do anymore. They claim that they’re bored and might then watch TV. As technology progressed, it seems that the dependence on electronics grew and lowered the ability of children to play without the use of technology. My mother, a second grade teacher, and other teachers also notice this trend. She claims that the kids say that they are bored if there are no fancy technological aspects in class, such as a PowerPoint or computer generated graph. Also, she sees that the kids don’t have a sense of delayed gratification and expect things to happen instantaneously.

 

I admit that when I was in second grade I played video games, but I also spent time playing outside, too. In hindsight, kids my age are at the beginning of this trend. Our childhoods were the start of gaming systems such as Playstation and Xbox. Because we were used to playing outside, Playstation and Xbox were just something fun to do on a day of bad weather or to take a break; we weren’t dependent on technology to have fun because we learned how to have fun without it. Granted there are some people who sadly became accustomed to gaming systems and now spend a large amount of their time on them. Now, kids grow up with a mass of technology available, such as iDevices, portable computers, and high definition gaming systems. They learn to use these to have fun and as a consequence don’t learn to play outside or see it as boring. It takes less effort for a child to play by his or herself on an electronic device than it does to ask a friend to play outside. It’s also possible that technology is more appealing to children now because it can give them the sense that they’re in the action as opposed to being a third party that’s controlling the action. Interestingly, it seem that children that play on a more interactive system such as the Wii find it easier to seek other activities without technology. This could be because the Wii simulates playing so the children still learn how to play even with the absence of technology.

 

Technology allows tasks to be completed fast, if not in a few seconds. An example of this that applies to everyone is the use of the Internet. If a webpage doesn’t load in twenty seconds, most people tend to become frustrated at the “slow” Internet connection and attempt to reload the page in the hope that it loads faster.

 

An Unfortunate Story of an Unfortunate Boy

 

            In 2005, James Murphy was born in a small town in northern Massachusetts. From an early age, he enjoyed playing Playstation. If there was a popular game that everyone was playing, James played it. He went to school, came home, played Playstation, ate dinner, and played Playstation some more.

 

One day, while he had the lead in the fourth quarter in Madden NFL 2012, the screen went blank and the console shut off. He screamed in disbelief and rushed to turn it back on, hoping that somehow if he did if quick enough the game would resume. He flipped the power button to “off” then “on”. Nothing happened. He ran upstairs to tell his mother what had happened. When he finally caught his breath he explained what happened to her. In an even tone, she told him to go next door and see if his best friend, Chris, wanted to play outside.

 

            James looked at his mother, dumbfounded. It was a rare occasion that he played outside and he didn’t know what to say to Chris. He made excuses to not play outside, too embarrassed to tell his mother that he didn’t know how to play outside or how to ask Chris to play, and that he thought that it would be boring to play outside. He went back downstairs and made futile attempts to restart his Playstation. He unplugged it and plugged it back in, he held the reset button in for a few seconds, he even did a series of taps that the Internet said would restart the game console (it didn’t). Defeated, James went upstairs and lay on the couch. His mother became worried about him after he didn’t get up for an hour. He just lie there, staring at the wall, muttering that he was bored, wondering how he could fix his Playstation and what he would do until then. He spent five hours like this, in a kind of paralysis; unable to think of something fun to do that wasn’t playing Playstation.

 

            Distraught at her son’s state, James’ mother called a family friend, a behavioral psychologist who specialized in treating young kids who didn’t know how to play outside because they became bored. When he arrived at the house and saw James’ state, he froze. In his experience, James was in worse condition than any of his previous patients. Concerned at the severity of James’ affliction, he recommended that the Playstation be fixed or replaced as soon as possible so that James would return to his normal self. He instructed James’ mother to bring James to his office at the end of the week so that they could begin therapy and help James.

 

            James started therapy the next week and progressed slowly at first. After the first week, he didn’t want to go back and just wanted to stay home and play Playstation, claiming that it was the only thing to do that wasn’t boring. His mother convinced him to give therapy another try, and soon after James went to therapy without objection.

 

He went to therapy twice a week for three months. After he finished, the difference was remarkable. James went over to Chris’s house every day and asked him if he wanted to play. He also controlled the amount of time he spent on all electronics so that he could enjoy the everyday interactions with people that he often missed in the past because of his time spent on electronics. Now James is a normal kid who loves playing outside with his friends and doesn’t get bored when he doesn’t play Playstation.

 

Free Time and Boredom

 

In their journal article “Free Time,” Stephens and Weston make interesting arguments concerning leisure time and boredom. Their first argument concerns the issue of time restraints characteristic of human activities. Time is kept by clocks and is a constraining factor in almost any situation. No matter what a person is doing, they are most likely checking the clock at some point. Time is the structure of everyone’s day and binds us to its circuitous rhythm. According to Stephens and Weston, entertainment can bind us to this repetition, too. On a regular and fixed schedule, entertainment such as TV shows, when used right, are a distraction from boredom. Boredom can set in during the free time when one isn’t watching TV. During this time, people may feel that they have nothing to do and ironically, will watch TV.

 

There are distinctions between boring TV and entertaining TV. TV will become boring to a person who has no interest in the show or watches the program multiple times. They watch it because they don’t know what else to do that they believe isn’t boring. This type of TV is the dangerous type of TV. Much like the statistically decreasing ability of children that find playtime outside dull, boring TV start a cycle of idleness that a person can’t seem to break away from. Entertaining TV, however, can alleviate boredom. Entertaining TV is anything that is new and interesting to the viewer and is capable of breaking the repetition of daily life. Most day-to-day schedules are the same for the average adult during the week. If they enjoy watching a show that airs on a certain night, it is a welcome break from their otherwise repetitive schedule. However, Entertaining TV can cause boredom. As Stephens and Weston point out, one’s favorite program takes a certain amount of dedication from someone, comparable to the observance of the Sabbath. In some cases, when a person anticipates the airing of the next episode of their favorite series, they will become more aware of the time that passes between episodes. They may find themselves not concentrating on the current task, but contemplating the events of the next episode. Everything they do during the wait period seems boring and excruciating. This anticipation breeds an anticipatory and impatient type of boredom. When this occurs, it is hard to break out of its grasp. The best thing to do to escape this boredom is to find something that will occupy the mind for a while until the boredom is gone and one can return to their work. It’s important to realize that entertaining TV doesn’t always cause boredom. Only in rare cases does boredom develop.

 

I believe that the most powerful indication of leisure time in today’s society mentioned by Stephens and Weston are the results of a free time calculator that they included in their journal. The results are indicative of the contemporary moment. When calculated, the free time remaining in the week for the participant was -1 hour. It seems that as we become a busier society, we are making the idiom “there aren’t enough hours in the week” true. I find it interesting that these free time calculators are easy to find online. By googling “free time calculator,” one will get search results that will bring them to a website that will calculate time spent. While I couldn’t find one like the calculator referred to by Stephens and Weston, there are many time calculators for work hours. One such calculator can be found at http://www.redcort.com/Free-Timecard-Calculator. Time mismanagement can lead to a lack of time to get things done during the week. The irony is that when time is managed right, a new problem arises, boredom. This can stem from tasks being accomplished faster through the use of technology, creating free time. This free time, if not used right, can cause someone to become bored.

 

 

The body of the journal by Stephens and Weston suggests that time management is important in the present, people don’t have enough time, and that people sometimes go to great lengths to save time. The anecdote of the priest who made do-it-yourself home blessing kits for members of his congregation for the season of Lent is interesting. His reason for doing this was because he no longer had enough time to reach the houses of the entire congregation because they were seldom home. This limited the hours which he could visit the homes, and he realized that time was against him. To ensure that houses of those who went to mass were blessed, he created kits for the head of the house to bless it.

The Boredom of a Fish

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The life of a fish in an aquarium must be boring.  They have no chance to do anything other than swim around the tank all day, looking out into a world they will never know.  But their world is meant to be the aquarium.  A typical fish owner will attempt to make the tank a suitable habitat for the fish and a decoration for humans to marvel at, however, it is likely that the life of the fish will become boring as they adjust to their surroundings. This is what domestication of any animal as a pet is like.  The owner makes a home for the animal, but yet it seems as though the owner gets the most benefit.

As a fish owner I find myself staring at my aquarium wondering if my fish get bored and what they do when I’m gone.  I imagine that they continue to swim around with no apparent purpose, as if they are looking for something but don’t quite know what it is that they are trying to find. They follow each other, examining the walls of the tank, as if they were plotting a way to break through. After, they may swim to the other side, or maybe around the plants, then end up in the exact same area as before, not realizing that they were there 10 seconds ago.  I assume that the cause of this behavior is due to their very short attention span.  They must have at least some capacity for memory though.  They have an innate memory that allows them to recognize food and predators. This is different from learned memory, which would involve recognizing the aquarium and its surroundings.

The most exciting part of the day for my fish must be when they are fed. For the moment it gives them something to do that has purpose.  They dart as if they have a definitive idea of what they’re doing.  This is different from the aimless manner in which they swim at other times.

If they were able to think about boredom I think that they would be bored.  There is no variation in their daily routine.  They swim around the tank, which doesn’t change; they eat; and then swim some more.  It would take them a mere minute to become familiar with the entire tank.  They don’t get bored though, because of their short memory.

I feel bad for them because they are restricted to the tank their entire lives swimming around with nothing important to do.  Their routine is the same everyday and will spend the rest of their lives swimming around in 5 gallons of water.

To be a fish would be great though. They swim around the aquarium all day with nothing to accomplish except to exist.  They seem carefree, oblivious to the struggles of life. They’re free to do whatever they want; they have no schedule.

I believe that although the life of a fish seems boring and is repetitive, to fish it isn’t.  The main reason for this is because they don’t know any better. They have no concept of what boredom is, so they can’t realize that they’re bored.  Further, their short memory would prevent them from getting bored because most of what they do would be forgotten and most things would seem new even if they weren’t.