The Boston Globe:
You’re driving to work one morning when you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam. You’re sitting in math class, listening to your teacher explain the afternoon’s lesson. You’re labeling envelopes to send out party invitations, letter after letter after letter. What do these seemingly unrelated experiences share? They have the potential to be unbelievably boring.
Boredom is more than just one of life’s minor irritations. It has been implicated in drug use and alcoholism, problematic gambling and compulsive behavior—and has even been tied to potentially lethal errors in job execution. Bored nuclear military personnel perform less reliably than colleagues engaged in their work; bored airline pilots become more likely to rely heavily, and dangerously, on automated processes.
Now, after an exhaustive survey of every study they could locate that mentioned boredom—over 100 are referenced in the final paper—a group of psychologists from York University in Canada has proposed an answer, essentially a new unified theory of boredom. In a new review paper published this fall in Perspectives on Psychological Science, cognitive psychologist John Eastwood and his team suggest all boredom may result from essentially the same thing: a conflict of attention, or attention misfocused in a way that disrupts our engagement. Sometimes the problem is that there is too much competing for our attention, sometimes too little. In all cases, they argue, boredom has as much to do with our inner response to our circumstances as to the circumstances themselves.
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