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The History of Boredom | Science | Smithsonian
"Recent scientific research agrees: A host of studies have found that people who are easily bored may also be at greater risk for depression, anxiety disorders, gambling addictions, eating disorders, aggression and other psychosocial issues. Boredom can also exacerbate existing mental illness. And, according to at least one 2010 study, people who are more easily bored are two-and-a-half times more likely to die of heart disease than people who are not.

Why is unclear. Take depression: “One possibility is that boredom causes depression; another is that depression causes boredom; another is that they’re mutually causative; another is that boredom is an epi-phenomenon or another component of depression; and another is that there’s another third variable that causes both boredom and depression,” explains Dr. John Eastwood, a clinical psychologist at York University in Toronto. “So we’re at the very beginning stages of trying to figure it out.”

That’s partly because up until very recently, he says, psychologists weren’t working with a very good definition of boredom. Eastwood is one of a growing number of researchers dedicated to understanding boredom; in the October 2012 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, Eastwood and his colleagues published “The Unengaged Mind”, an attempt to define boredom.

The paper claimed that boredom is a state in which the sufferer wants to be engaged in some meaningful activity but cannot, characterized by both restlessness and lethargy. With that in mind, Eastwood says that it all is essentially an issue of attention. “Which kind of makes sense, because attention is the process by which we connect with the world,” explains Eastwood

Boredom may be the result of a combination of factors – a situation that is actually boring, a predisposition to boredom, or even an indication of an underlying mental condition. What that says about how the brain works requires more research.

“I’m quite sure that when people are bored, their brain is in a different state,” says Eastwood. “But the question is not just is your brain in a different state, but what that tells us about the way the brain works and the way attention works.”

Why is Boredom Good For You?

There has to be a reason for boredom and why people suffer it; one theory is that boredom is the evolutionary cousin to disgust.

In Toohey’s Boredom: A Living History, the author notes that when writers as far back as Seneca talk about boredom, they often describe it was a kind of nausea or sickness. The title of famous 20th century existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel about existential boredom was, after all, Nausea. Even now, if someone is bored of something, they’re “sick of it” or “fed up”. So if disgust is a mechanism by which humans avoid harmful things, then boredom is an evolutionary response to harmful social situations or even their own descent into depression.

“Emotions are there to help us react to, register and regulate our response to stimulus from our environment,” he says. Boredom, therefore, can be a kind of early warning system. “We don’t usually take it as a warning – but children do, they badger you to get you out of the situation.”

And though getting out of boredom can lead to extreme measures to alleviate it, such as drug taking or an extramarital affair, it can also lead to positive change. Boredom has found champions in those who see it as a necessary element in creativity. In 2011, Manohla Dargis, New York Times film critic, offered up a defense of “boring” films, declaring that they offer the viewer the opportunity to mentally wander: “In wandering there can be revelation as you meditate, trance out, bliss out, luxuriate in your thoughts, think.”

But how humans respond to boredom may have changed dramatically in the last century. In Eastwood’s opinion, humans have become used to doing less to get more, achieving intense stimulation at the click of a mouse or touch of a screen.

“We are very used to being passively entertained,” he says. “We have changed our understanding of the human condition as one of a vessel that needs to be filled.” And it’s become something like a drug – “where we need another hit to remain at the same level of satisfaction,” says Eastwood.

There is hope, however, and it’s back at the Boring Conference. Rather than turning to a quick fix – YouTube videos of funny cats, Facebook – the Boring Conference wants people to use the mundane as an impetus to creative thinking and observation.

“It’s not the most amazing idea in the world, but I think it’s a nice idea – to look around, notice things,” says Ward, the conference organizer. “I guess that’s the message: Look at stuff.”"
2012  boredom  via:anne  depression  attention  manohladargis  johneastwood  psychology  engagement  petertoohey 
june 2015 by robertogreco

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