7 Things to Know About Boredom and Impulsivity

How does boredom influence decision-making?

Posted Aug 31, 2020

1. How does it feel to be bored? Boredom is generally viewed as an unpleasant feeling. It is a feeling of dissatisfaction, restlessness, and mental fatigue.

Boredom happens when our mind is unoccupied, and we want to do something but can’t figure out what we want to do. No one is completely untouched by boredom, but some suffer more than others. People highly prone to boredom tend to have an impulsive mindset and are constantly looking for new experiences (Danckert and Eastwood, 2019).

2. Feeling trapped. Boredom is a threat to our sense of agency, the sense that we are in control. So any opportunity to engage in impulsive behaviors, such as eating or online shopping, seems very appealing. By exerting free will, we expand our options and freedom.

3. Escape from boredom. We desire to escape from boredom. The normal reaction to boredom is to seek outside stimulations for distraction (e.g., playing a video game or social media browsing). However, these short-term solutions only serve to strengthen the grip of boredom. It’s like an addiction that we need more and more intense stimulation to fight. And this may ultimately lead to more boredom in the long run.

4. Diminished self-control capacity. Boredom diminishes the capacity for self-control and attention. Similar to other negative emotions, boredom causes a behavioral shift toward immediate improvements in mood, and so people make poor decisions. For a bored person, long-term consequences fade, and immediate outcomes loom larger.

5. Drug abuse and addiction. As Kierkegaard remarked, boredom is “the root of all evil.” The chronically bored are at a higher risk for drug addiction, alcoholism, and compulsive gambling. This may be especially true during adolescence, a time when they are putting together the skills needed to deal with boredom in adulthood.

6. Eating to blunt boredom. Boredom encourages people to seek sensation by consuming certain foods to escape from unpleasant feelings. When we are bored, we seem to eat as a way to occupy ourselves.

Boredom is often felt as a low energy level. So we are less willing to put in the effort to engage in a task. Consuming snack foods high in sugar and fat provides us with energy and distracts us from boredom.

7. Boredom can be an opportunity for creative thinking and idea generation. The psychological pain of boredom functions as a signal telling us that we need to create meaning and satisfying actions. People who feel like their life lacks meaning frequently feel bored. Meaningful activities flow from our desires and occupy our minds. Activities that are forced on us, or disconnected from our desires, will feel worthless and will not engage us.   

In sum, the unpleasant feeling of boredom can motivate people to escape the self. Boredom has been linked to poor choices, including increased impulsivity and addiction. These behaviors can offer a way to escape and the promise of something better. However, the tendency to choose a short-term fix can harm our well-being in the long-run.

Boredom also motivates us to seek something satisfying to do. So we should not aim for a boredom-free life. Rather, we need to seek true antidotes to boredom that will satisfy our need to be mentally engaged.

References

Danckert, J & Eastwood, JD (2019), Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.