What happens in the brain when we are bored?

By Maria Cohut, Published Tuesday 9 July 2019 , Medical News Today

In people who are prone to boredom, this state can negatively affect their mental health. So, what happens in the brain when we get bored, and how can this help us find ways of dealing with boredom? A new study investigates.

On average, adults in the United States experience 131 days of boredom per year — at least that is what a recent commercial survey suggests.

What matters, though, is not just how much time a person spends feeling bored, but also how they react to the state of boredom.

Traditionally, boredom gets a bad rap because many people believe that the state of boredom equates with a lack of productivity or focus on a given task.

However, some research has indicated that it is good to be bored because this state helps boost creativity.

One way or the other, boredom is something we all have experienced repeatedly throughout our lives, and according to some research, it seems that animals might share this experience with us, too.

“Everybody experiences boredom,” says Sammy Perone, who is an assistant professor at Washington State University in Pullman. However, he adds, “some people experience it a lot, which is unhealthy.”

For this reason, Perone and colleagues from Washington State University decided to conduct a study focusing on what boredom looks like in the brain.

The study findings — which now appear in the journal Psychophysiology — might help them identify the best ways of coping with boredom so that this state does not end up affecting mental health.

At the end of the day, “we wanted to look at how to deal with [boredom] effectively,” Perone explains.

The study premises

To begin with, the research team believed there was a “hardwiring” difference in the brains of people who react negatively to boredom vs. those individuals who experience no ill effects when they are bored.

However, initial tests — using electroencephalogram (EEG) caps to measure participants’ brain activity — proved them wrong.

“Previously, we thought people who react more negatively to boredom would have specific brain waves prior to being bored. 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,” Perone explains.

So, if there was no difference in terms of brain hardwiring, then what could explain why boredom affected some people more adversely than others? The researchers decided that the most likely explanation was individual response: some people simply reacted poorly to being bored, which could affect their well-being.

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