Looking at how the brain reacts to boredom could help people cope

July 08, 2019

Boredom is a common human experience. But how people cope with or handle being bored is important for mental health.

"Everybody experiences boredom," said Sammy Perone, Washington State University assistant professor in the Department of Human Development. "But some people experience it a lot, which is unhealthy. So, we wanted to look at how to deal with it effectively."

The brains of people who are prone to boredom react differently, compared to those who don't, Perone and his colleagues found in a new paper recently published in the journal Psychophysiology.

Among their findings, those who experience boredom more often tend to have more anxiety and are more prone to depression.

Perone conducted his research and wrote the paper with WSU assistant professor Elizabeth Weybright and WSU graduate student Alana Anderson.

"Previously, we thought people who react more negatively to boredom would have specific brain waves prior to being bored," Perone said. "But in our baseline tests, we couldn't differentiate the brain waves. It was only when they were in a state of boredom that the difference surfaced."

That means the big difference between people who experience boredom often is how they react to a boring situation. The implication is they can be taught coping mechanisms to avoid those negative responses.

How to bore people

To study how the brain reacts to boredom, you must first get a baseline screening, then bore people almost to tears. So Perone studied 54 people in his lab, where they came in, filled out a survey, and were fitted with a special cap that measures brain waves at 128 spots on the scalp.

The survey consisted of a series of questions about boredom and how participants react to it. Next, researchers measured the brain waves of each participant with their eyes open and then eyes closed to get the baseline reading. Then the boredom started.

The subjects sat in front of a computer displaying eight pegs on the screen. Their job was to click on the peg that got highlighted. Each click turned the peg a quarter turn. Then another would be highlighted. The experiment consisted of 320 quarter turns, taking around 10 minutes.

"I've never done it, it's really tedious," Perone said. "But in researching previous experiments, this was rated as the most boring task tested. That's what we needed."

Reactions to boredom are key

When analyzing the brain wave results, researchers looked at two specific areas. The right frontal and left frontal areas of the brain are active for different reasons. Left frontal activity is higher when people are looking to engage or stimulate themselves by thinking about other things. The right frontal activity is increased when people are feeling more negative emotions or becoming more anxious.

In baseline testing, there was no difference between the people who reacted with more left brain activity vs. right brain activity. But people who answered the survey questions saying that they're more prone to experience boredom in their daily life had more right frontal brain activity as they got more bored doing the peg activity.

"We found that the people who are good at coping with boredom in everyday life, based on the surveys, shifted more toward the left," Perone said. "Those that don't cope as well in everyday life shifted more right."

Coping with boredom

There are several ways that people cope positively with boredom, Perone said. They seek out a book or something to read. They create a grocery list or think about what they're going to make for dinner, for example.

"We had one person in the experiment who reported mentally rehearsing Christmas songs for an upcoming concert. They did the peg turning exercise to the beat of the music in their head," Perone said. "Doing things that keep you engaged rather than focusing on how bored you are is really helpful."

Real-world application

The next steps for the research will involve how to get people to be more proactive in their thinking when bored.

"The results of this paper show that reacting more positively to boredom is possible," Perone said. "Now we want to find out the best tools we can give people to cope positively with being bored. So, we'll still do the peg activity, but we'll give them something to think about while they're doing it.

"It's really important to have a connection between the lab and the real world. If we can help people cope with boredom better, that can have a real, positive mental health impact."
-end-


Washington State University

Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.