Negative effects of boredom

Workplace Wellness / Category / Emile Du Toit / May 10th 2014

What is boredom?

Boredom is the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest. Boredom is not an objective state (‘If I have nothing stimulating to do then I suffer from boredom”), but rather a subjective experience (‘I feel so bored as I don’t feel stimulated by anything”).

Boredom itself is negative!

Generally speaking, it is enough to see boredom AS the negative effect, so there is no burning desire to look for others. Certainly we throw in things here like loss of productivity as well as the opportunity cost of what someone might have been doing with their lives if they really went after their passion!

Nevertheless, there are other, more serious negative consequences that result from (generally chronic) boredom.

Boredom and its effects: why so much confusion?

The internet is littered with inaccurate conjectural articles on the negative (and indeed positive) effects of boredom. Why so much confusion? Well, when considering negative (and indeed positive) effects of boredom it is important to understand how cause and effect actually work. It is also vital that we understand what boredom actually is. For more on causality take a squizz at my blog onthe positive effects of boredom.

Negative effects of boredom

Research shows boredom to be responsible for increased risk of the following:2.

  • Drug and alcohol abuse / dependence
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor academic performance
  • Poor interpersonal skills
  • Feelings of anger
  • Aggression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies
  • Somatization
  • Interpersonal sensitivity
  • Risk taking behaviour - it also places people at risk for acting out on other risk-taking behaviours, such as reckless driving as they begin to desperately crave stimulation.
  • Compulsive acting out - I think it would be fair comment that boredom is also likely to place us at higher risk of compulsive behaviours such as sex addiction, binge eating and compulsive gambling.

  • The boredom – hyper-stimulation cycle

    A boredom proneness scale has been designed to measure how likely one is to struggle with boredom, all things being equal. People who are boredom prone require a really high level of stimulation / risk taking behaviour in order to feel alive and stimulated. However – and the path into addiction is a prime example of this – this need for hyper-stimulation begins to lower the boredom threshold.

    An individual may require higher and higher levels of stimulation to feel okay, and as a consequence also becomes less mindful. They can no longer focus on small things and allow them to have a positive impact. If you use methamphetamine and reckless sex / housebreaking in order to feel alive then finishing off a blog article holds no joy whatsoever. People become filled with emptiness that they are not able to fill, and it takes more and more extreme highs to feel okay.

    Just to add a creepy element to this blog, this is one of the factors that might lead an antisocial in to serial murder!

    More likely to die of a heart problem

    We have probably all had a day when we could not engage with what we actually wanted to do be doing and the second hand on the clock slowed down to a crawl. One zones in and out and back to the clock – which hasn’t budged an inch. Only the ticking sound convinces us that the battery isn’t flat. Time has stopped and we are literally dying of boredom!

    Well we are unlikely to actually die from boredom itself, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot be brutally murdered by its trappings!

    When we are bored we are more likely to eat poorly, abandon exercise, suppress anger, struggle with stress related problems, or embrace alcohol or drugs (including cigarettes). All of these factors can increase our risk of prematurely meeting our maker! A boredom study examining - not at all surprisingly - 7500 London civil servants revealed a strong correlation between levels of boredom and heart attacks. 1.

    In fact those subjects who reported being very bored were two and a half times more likely to experience a heart attack than those who were not bored!

    Now once again we need to realise that there are some moderating variables. Boredom does indeed lead to poor eating, less exercise, suppressed anger, stress related problems and increased alcohol/drug use. However, all of the above could also lead to increased levels of boredom! And indeed a particular personality characteristic such as an antisocial or borderline personality could result in both boredom and the high-risk predisposing factors for a heart attack.

    So although their research showed clearly that boredom is extremely strongly correlated with heart attacks, boredom would be expected to still causally affect heart attacks but not quite as strongly as the measured correlation between the two.

    References

    1. Britton, Annie & Shipley, Martin, (2010), " Bored to Death?", International Journal of Epidemiology, 39(2):370-371; doi:10.1093/ije/dyp404
    2. Sommers J , Vodanovich SJ. Boredom proneness: its relationship to psychological- and physical health symptoms. J Clin Psychol. 2000 Jan;56 (1):149-55.

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