New Study Links Boredom with Stress and Depression
Now that we’re a couple weeks into the new school year, there’s probably been a handful of times that you’ve been stuck in the middle of class with a severe case of boredom. While you might blame it on a droning professor or a lackluster subject, a new study from a team of Canadian researchers shows that maybe the reason why you can’t keep interested in class has more to do with yourself than with the subject matter.
Researchers compared literary, philosophical and psychological sources that describe the state of boredom, as well as interviewing people as to how they feel when bored, and what they perceive to be its cause. After using these comparisons to create a working definition of what boredom is from a scientific standpoint, the team has determined that boredom is linked to attention; if we have trouble maintaining interest in a lecture and subsequently fail to be stimulated by it, we recognize the difficulty in staying focused and subsequently blame our surroundings or the activity itself.
“We attribute [boredom] with problems in the environment rather than the problems with ourselves,” said researcher Mark Fenske, associate professor at the University of Guelph to NBC News. “Our approach is to link [boredom] to attention. The fact that we’re able to talk about boredom in terms of attention [means] we’ve already changed the focus.”
By ascribing the cause of boredom to problems with a person’s attention span, Fenske and his co-researcher, John Eastwood, believe that chronic boredom could soon be treated as a psychological ailment, similar to our current methods of battling depression and anxiety disorders.
“Boredom can have some horrible effects and we see it associated with pathological states. [There’s a] strong association with depression and boredom and traumatic brain injury and boredom,” adds Fenske.
As college students are notorious for the capacity to be bored, this revelation could have massive implications in allowing students who consistently have trouble finding interest in their schoolwork to understand the root causes, and that those causes may largely be the result of to much stress put upon the student by the schoolwork itself.
“When people are in a negative emotional state, discouraged, or down, we know that causes attention problems,” said Eastwood. ”We know when people are stressed it makes it harder to focus and pay attention at a very basic, fundamental level.”
The researchers hope that this study will not only improve the lives of the chronically bored by encouraging sufferers to perhaps seek medical help rather than engage in self-destructive behavior like excessive drinking or drug use, which is often the go-to form of self-medication in preventing boredom for a large number of college students every year.
“I think that you can think about it in two ways … boredom is related to addiction, gambling, eating problems … or you can think of chronic, protracted boredom as a problem in its own right,” said Eastwood.
The study, “The Unengaged Mind: Defining Boredom in Terms of Attention” is available on Persepctives of Psychological Science.