When you feel bored, it might not just be your sense of enjoyment that is suffering. A new health breakthrough sought to understand the mental processes that contribute to boredom—and uncovered possible health risks involved in feeling that way.
Boredom is often seen as a trivial and temporary discomfort that we can relieve by changing the circumstance. But at the same time, it can be a chronic stress that might be leading to big consequences for health and well-being.
Accidents are one consequence of boredom: serious injuries can happen when your safety relies on being constantly focused on a task. (Truck driving and medical monitoring come to mind.) How about behavioral consequences? Boredom is linked to lack of impulse control, which can cause not only alcohol abuse, but also overeating and binge eating. This can kill diet plans of course, and contribute to weight gain if boredom is a constant pressure. In some cases, boredom has even been associated with mortality itself.
Boredom remains a niche field of research and, despite its significant presence in society, remains poorly understood. It hasn’t even been clearly defined in science yet. That’s what the researchers wanted to do: look at what drives boredom in order to arrive at a precise definition. Their study is published this month in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
Boredom, they found, arises from failures in one of the brain’s attention networks. We are bored when:
— We have difficulty paying attention to internal information (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external information (e.g., environmental stimuli) needed for a fun activity
— We’re aware of the fact that we’re having difficulty paying attention
— We believe that the environment is responsible for our aversive state (e.g., “This task is boring,” “There is nothing to do!”).
The study believes that the fields of cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, and clinical psychology should be integrated to understand boredom and attention, as it is all closely linked. They hope to discover new strategies to help people who suffer boredom regularly, and prevent the potential dangers of cognitive errors that are often associated with boredom.
The message here is clear: we don’t know much about boredom, it could be causing health issues we don’t know about, so it’s best to try to be as active in engaging activities as you can. When you feel bored, take action to rid yourself of it!