Making the most out of boredom

Mindful handling of free-time

Being bored by myself the last couple of days, I thought about how to get myself motivated to do something again and looked for information on the internet what I could do about it. school_its_way_more_boring_than_when_you_were_there-460x307A test with several questions although it was definitely not scientifically set up resulted in suggesting me to relax and maybe listen to my favourite music or doing some exercise.

Boredom can be defined as an undesired and unpleasant affective state in which the person lacks any interest in activity and has difficulty in focusing on a task (Fisher, 1993). The individual finds it effortful to attend to a specific task (Csikszentmihalyi, 1978; DeChenne & Moody, 1987).

Boredom can lead to lapses in attention, being tired, less efficiency in a task and is associated with more accidents (Cox, 1980; Drory, 1982; O´Hanlon, 1981). Other possible negative consequences of boredom are negative emotions, stress, hostility, increased risk taking and drug and alcohol consumption (Hamilton, 1983; O´Hanlon, 1981; Orcutt, 1984; Wasson, 1981; Zuckerman, 1979).

Leong and Schneller (1993) tried to identify temperamental links with boredom proneness and found out that highly dogmatic, less sociable persons with low levels of persistence, tempo and high impulsivity are more prone to boredom.

Sommers and Vodanovich (2000) found that boredom proneness assessed with the Boredom Proneness Scale is closely related with psychological and physical health symptoms. A sample of 200 undergraduate students reported significantly higher ratings on the Hopkins Symptom Checklist in the dimensions obsessive-compulsive disorder, somatization, anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity and depression when highly bored. Other researchers reported boredom proneness to be related to lower educational achievement, truancy rate, and poor performances (e.g. Drory, 1982; Robinson, 1975; Maroldo, 1986). Boredom is especially related to under- and over-challenging academic tasks (Acee et al., 2010).

Pekrun et al. (2010) found boredom to be positively related to attention problems and negatively to effort, use of elaboration strategies, intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, and academic performance in different cultural contexts (Germany, U.S.). Larson and Richards (1991) found that boredom is experienced during 32% of the time spent in class, schulzeitung1710bild11and findings from Goetz et al. (2006) suggest that it is experienced more frequently than anxiety. Nett and colleagues (2011) suggest that a cognitive approach that encourages students to focus on the utility value of what they are learning could help reduce boredom, enhance their motivation and achievement and contribute to a more enjoyable learning experience.

We have now seen that excess of boredom can have highly negative effects. However boredom can also be a source for new experiences and thoughts.

Interestingly, Baird and colleagues (2012) found out that engagement in undemanding tasks led to a significant improvement in problem solving of a previously presented task. The context that improved performance was not associated with thoughts about the problem presented beforehand, but rather with higher levels of mind wandering. Dijkserhuis and Meurs (2006) confirm that distraction can enhance creativity. Mind wandering is associated with undemanding tasks (e.g. Mason et al., 2007) and is closely associated with boredom.

Weariness and boredom can also be inspiring. Meditational practice may lead to an insight that might enrich life. It can lead to creativity and can put the focus on one´s interests. A Buddhist monk called Matthieu Ricard wrote in his book “Happiness”: Boredom is the illness of the ones for whom time has no value. In a TED talk he puts forward that our mind determines every instance of our lives. Nonetheless, we spend only little time on cultivating our mind although its way of functioning ultimately determines the quality of our experiences.

Mindfulness-Meditation-techniques-meditation-tipsMindfulness is one possibility to engage in when bored. We do not always need to distract ourselves with something. Of course, on a train ride you can do thousands of things: phone different people, connect with the internet, play games, read newspapers…. We are flooded with sensations and we live in an age of information abundance. In this age in which multi-tasking is part of our daily lives sometimes it is good to slow down the pace and to get attuned to our inner state.

I propose that teaching mindfulness in schools can reduce boredom and weariness of the students and it can highlight and also showcase how one can overcome boredom. Mindfulness instead can contribute to new thoughts, new insights enhancing attention (Shapiro et al., 1998), creativity (last blog) and motivation while reducing stress (Ludwig & Kabat-Zinn, 2008).

Boredom as an affective state can thereafter be “cured” or just be experienced in a different way: letting it go and observing the emotional state, because mindfulness as I outlined in an earlier blog is a way of cultivating deep respect for emotions.Red on top

But also music or sports as I mentioned at the beginning can decrease boredom and are in fact often combined in interventions. A program called Move-Into-Learning (MIL) represented an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Intervention for ADHD children (Klatt et al., 2012). It combined mindfulness with yoga movement, music, written and visual arts to reduce stress which is associated with boredom and to improve behaviour of the students. Results demonstrated a significant decrease of hyperactivity, highly significant differences in the ADHD index and significant increases in cognitive tasks and attention. A two month follow-up showed further significant improvements.

This intervention shows how important interplay of arts and mindfulness is in the educational setting. In my next blog I will have a closer look at music and mindfulness and will show that there are also approaches in clinical settings that combine these two aspects to provide for a better and more effective therapy.

References:

Acee et al. (2010). Academic boredom in under- and over-challenging situations. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 35(1), 17-27.

Baird et al. (2012). Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation. Psychological Science, 23: 1117.

Fisher, C. D. (1993). Boredom at Work: A Neglected Concept. Human Relations,46: 395. http://hum.sagepub.com/content/46/3/395.full.pdf+html.

Klatt et al. (2012). Sustained effects of a mindfulness-based classroom intervention on behavior in urban, undeserved children. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3373333/.

Larson, R. W., Richards, M.H. (1991). Boredom in the middle school years: Blaming schools versus blaming students. American Journal of Education, 99(4), 418-443.

Leong, F. T., Schneller, G. R. (1993). Boredom proneness: Temperamental and cognitive components. Personality and Individual Differerences, 14(1), 233-239.

Ludwig, D. S., Kabat-Zinn, J. (2008). Mindfulness in Medicine. The Journal oft he American Medical Association, 300(11), 1350-1352.

Pekrun et al. (2010). Boredom in Achievement Settings: Exploring Control-Value Antecedents and Performance Outcomes of a Neglected Emotion. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(3), 531-549.

Nett et al. (2011). Coping with boredom in school: An experience sampling perspective. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 36(1), 49-59.

Shapiro et al. (1998). Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Medical and Premedical Students. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 21(6), 581-599.

Sommers, J., Vodanovich, S. J. (2000). Boredom Proneness: Is Relationship to Psychological- and Physical-Health Symptoms. J Clin Psychol, 56, 149-155.

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8 Responses to Making the most out of boredom

  1. Pingback: L’ennui, une route à deux voies (suite et discussion)

  2. Pingback: L’ennui, la dépression et autres joyeusetés en lien avec l’attention…

  3. Jane Faya says:

    Fantastic post!The topic of study is really interesting and also helpful.Thanks for your post
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  4. Pingback: Do the (r)evolution!!! | Science of Education

  5. Heya! I understand this is somewhat off-topic however I had to
    ask. Does managing a well-established blog such as yours require a
    lot of work? I am completely new to writing a blog
    but I do write in my journal daily. I’d like to start a blog so I can easily share my experience and feelings online. Please let me know if you have any kind of recommendations or tips for new aspiring bloggers. Appreciate it!

  6. When I was reading your blog, a thought that kept coming back to me was a quote by someone (can’t remember who) that goes “only boring people get bored”. Vodanovich and Koss (1990) suggested that there is indeed a boredom proneness scale. Mann and Robinson (2009) also looked at people who get bored in higher education. They found that again boredom proneness comes into play. They also found, however, that power point was also linked to boredom. Teachers that used power point were less likely to engage with students, e.g. through eye contact. They often just read out information from the slides and presented far too much information. This shows that there is definitely a teacher element to the boredom students feel. However the fact that some people seem to have a higher propensity to be bored than others has some interesting implications. For example, Larson and Richards (1991) ask whether we should be blaming schools or students for boredom. They found that students who were more likely to report boredom in school were also more likely to report boredom out of school as well. This shows that it appears to not be school that is making them bored, as they are just more prone to feeling bored. However they make a point of highlighting that schools seem to be structured to reduce boredom, but rarely eliminate it.
    So overall, it seems that schools do seem to play a role in alleviating student boredom; however some people are just more likely to get bored than others. I think this is where mindfulness training would come in very useful for them.

    Vodanovich and Koss (1990) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00223891.1990.9674051
    Mann and Robinson (2009) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01411920802042911
    Larson and Richards (1991) http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/1085554

  7. Jack says:

    I really enjoyed your blog, boredom is such an interesting concept to study, in many ways it sparks much of people’s behaviour; when we have no chosen path, free time to play with we just have to get stuck into something new! You raise a very valid point with drug/alcohol use as a method to deal with boredom as so many students do. Distracting ourselves from boredom can become our soul obsession, planning out our calendar so that we don’t ever reach a point where there is nothing for us. Cheyne, Carriere and Smilek (2006) explored absent-mindedness, which I consider to be boredom without the realisation that one is bored, a state where we are paying little attention to the task at hand but are not consciously rejecting it. They found that attention lapses during task completion had negative implications such as a lack of efficiency and safety in task performance and lack of sustained motivation for the task in addition to not being able to enjoy the task. My interpretation of your blog is that we need to pay more attention to enjoy our time here instead of wishing it away and finding methods to make it pass.

    Cheyne, J, A., Carriere, J, S, A., & Smilek, D. (2006) Absent-mindedness: Lapses of conscious awareness and everyday cognitive failures. Consciousness and cognition. 3:15 DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2005.11.009

    • psu210 says:

      Hey Jack, thanks for your comment. As you interpreted it, I suggest in my blog that boredom needs to be tackled in school for example using mindfulness or the arts which both enhance creativity, which is again related with joyful tasks. School has the great responsibility to form personality and knowledge in children, which are found to have greater neural plasticity (Madden et. Al, 2009; Park et al., 2010; Goh et al., 2010).

      Meditational practice is one strategy to “make the most out of boredom” like I stated, because although school can be made more interesting, everybody still will at some point experience boredom which is not a bad thing. In this instance, mindfulness can help us refocus and refresh our minds again. In fact, it can have further beneficial effects. Lazar et al. (2005) showed that cortical thickness of meditation participants is increased for regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing using MRI. This again can improve learning, be it traditional or creative. The biggest differences were found in older participants suggesting that age-related cortical thinning is contained.

      Beyond that, new teaching methods are strongly needed. The following study shows the effects of a more creative or improvisational approach to education.

      Music learning can be enhanced either by the traditional way teaching the structural properties of a musical period in different modalities (verbal, demonstration on piano, visually) or improvisation. Gruhn et al. (1997) conducted an experiment comparing these teaching styles with each other and a control group. The improvisation group learnt to distinguish between “closed” and “well-balanced” patterns and their counterpart by trying it out on their own and trying to feel the music rather than to learn musical notations. Electrodes were applied to the brain to measure neural activity. Measures after a learning period indicated that L1 learners switched between music processing and decision phase, relying on the left hemisphere. L2 learners showed an increase in activity in both hemispheres. Both groups did not differ in their results, but had significantly higher results than the control group. After a retest one year later, L2 students showed the same results whereas L1 learners decreased in achievement. Creative learning therefore is associated with lower loss of memory and long term efficiency. Different learning types lead to different types of representation, the symbolic (traditional) and the genuine musical representation. The latter one leads to a different quality of perception, cognition and information processing.

      This example demonstrated that new approaches can be more efficient and more fun, avoiding too much boredom.

      Madden DJ, Bennett IJ, Song AW. Cerebral white matter integrity and cognitive aging: contributions from diffusion tensor imaging. Neuropsychol Rev. 2009;19(4):415–435.
      Park DC, Polk TA, Hebrank AC, Jenkins LJ. Age differences in default mode activity on easy and difficult spatial judgment tasks. Front Hum Neurosci. 2010;3:75.

      Goh JO, Suzuki A, Park DC. Reduced neural selectivity increases fMRI adaptation with age during face discrimination. Neuroimage. 2010 May;51(1):336–344.

      Gruhn et al. (1997). The Influence of Learning on cortical activation patterns. Bulletin for the Council for Research in Music Education, 133, 25-30.

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