Unmarried life is boring

Emotions: Instructions for use for a feeling: boredom


Read on one side

1. Occurrence

Tick. Tack. Tick. Look at the cell phone screen. Tack. Third attempt to reload Instagram. Still no network. Tick. View from the train window. Tack. Is there no cell phone mast out there? Tick. Every second lasts an eternity. All interest is gone - boredom is almost as repugnant to people as hunger or thirst. Doesn't it also mean "being bored to death"?

Boredom is most common among men, younger adults, unmarried people, and people on low incomes. This is what the financial economist Alycia Chin and the behavioral scientist Amanda Markey found in a study published in 2017. They had equipped almost 3,900 Americans with an app that regularly queried the participants' activities and feelings over a period of ten days. This resulted in a total of 1.1 million self-reports. One third of the differences in the feeling of boredom could be explained by the situation in which the test subjects were, write the authors. Those who study or work are more likely to be bored than those who play sports or do personal hygiene. Situations in which one's own autonomy is restricted, for example when working with colleagues, are also more likely to be perceived as boring.

Nevertheless: boredom is a luxury, a modern phenomenon. The bored person no longer has to fight for survival, feels safe and has enough free time. Even so, people are reluctant to admit that they are bored. They are downright embarrassed, because boredom does not correspond to the social pressure to be interested and interesting at all times.



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Perhaps that is why the research area is so young. Although the British natural and genetic researcher Francis Galton published a report on the restless audience at conferences as early as 1885, it received little attention. It was not until a hundred years later that the psychologists Norman Sundberg and Richard Farmer established the Boredom Proneness Scale - the first scale to measure one's personal tendency towards boredom. It marks the beginning of a new field of research in which psychologists, geneticists, sociologists and literary scholars cavort.

The cell phone is a new factor in boredom research: an average user looks at his smartphone for three hours a day. He picks it up 55 times a day. Does the smartphone influence the feeling of boredom?

2. Features

Everyone can intuitively explain what boredom is. Science, however, finds it difficult to come up with a generally applicable definition. Because there is still no standardized method to exactly create the feeling in the laboratory. The researchers make do with photos of a slug on a wooden board or with drying paint, they have the test subjects correct addresses, screw nuts on screws or stare at a white wall.

So far, one thing is certain: boredom is an emotional state. It lives from the discrepancy between the inner desire for a meaningful activity and the external situation that prevents the satisfaction of this desire - for example, when external stimuli are completely absent or one no longer wants or can no longer concentrate on these stimuli.