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Why boredom can be dangerous to your health

Bored people just have nothing to do; they want to be stimulated but cannot connect to their surroundings. Illustration: Nicoletta Barolini

Sartre called it leprosy of the soul. Kierkegaard saw in this the root of all evil. And Schopenhauer went even further and called boredom as proof of the emptiness and worthlessness of life.

Whatever it is - an emotion, a personality trait, a chemical imbalance (and there is no scientific consensus) - boredom is clearly uncomfortable.

It's such a universal, human experience, said Jacqueline Gottlieb, a neuroscientist at the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute in Columbia, who recently convened a group of leading scientists in the field for a discussion. However, there is a lack of knowledge about boredom. Until recently, scientists paid little attention to it.

Now researchers are looking in more detail at this condition, which makes people crave relief, and how it affects decision-making, relationships, and behavior.

Certainly, some studies suggest that boredom, especially if it's temporary, can have positive effects and stimulate creativity and productivity by letting our thoughts run free. But at this point, the majority of research finds that boredom makes our lives more difficult than helpful.

Here are 10 souvenirs:

  1. 63 percent of American adults experience boredom at least every 10 days. A study based on Research at Carnegie Mellon University , found boredom more common among men, young people, unmarried people and low-income earners.
  2. Many of us would agonize over boredom . A team of psychologists from the University of Virginia found that out two-thirds of men and a quarter of women would prefer to shock themselves with electric batons than being left alone in an empty room for 15 minutes.
  3. Seen in many cultures Boredom is more common in North America and Western Europe than in Asia . Researchers suggest that Asians place more emphasis on rest and relaxation, and North Americans on excitement and adventure.
  4. Boredom exists on a continuum . Psychologists use a 'susceptibility scale to boredom' “To distinguish between people who experience temporary boredom, which is situational and transient, and people who are prone to chronic boredom that lasts for an extended, indefinite period of time.
  5. Chronic boredom is associated with impulsiveness and risky behavior including careless driving, gambling addiction, drug and alcohol abuse, reckless thrills, and other self-destructive behaviors.
  6. People who get bored easily are prone to Depression, anxiety, anger, academic failure, poor job performance, loneliness, and isolation .
  7. People with ADHD get bored faster and may have more difficulty tolerating monotony than others . In fact, many with ADHD feel under-stimulated, which can be caused by failures in one of the brain's attention networks.
  8. Boredom is common in people with traumatic brain injury (SHT) and can even affect their recovery. Some people with TBI often begin to engage in more risky activities after their accidents.
  9. Boredom is a top predictor of addiction relapse . In one study Of 156 addicts, ages 24 to 68, in a methadone clinic, getting over boredom was the only reliable factor predicting whether they would stay on track.
  10. Religious people are less likely to be bored . In a study of 1,500 participants including agnostics, atheists, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus, non-religious people exposed to an everyday task - copying a guide to mowing the lawn - were more likely to report boredom. They were also more likely than religious people to say that they wanted to do something more important.

The Symposium Boredom: Behavioral and Clinical Implications was organized by the Research Cluster on Curiosity with the support of the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. Participants included Jacqueline Gottlieb, Zuckerman Institute, Head of the Research Cluster on Curiosity (Introduction); James Danckert , Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo; Wijnand van Tilburg , Lecturer in Psychology, King's College London; and McWelling Todman , Associate Professor of Clinical Practice, The New School.

Tags psychology neuroscience

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