Why Boredom is Interesting

Westgate, Erin, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wilson, Timothy, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

What is boredom? According to the Meaning and Attentional Components (MAC) model investigated here, boredom signals a lack of meaningful attentional engagement and is the result of (a) an attentional component, composed of mismatches between cognitive demands and available mental resources and (b) a meaning component, composed of mismatches between activities and valued goals (or the absence of valued goals altogether). The MAC model generates a number of novel predictions, including that multiple types of boredom exist and motivate action according to their underlying attentional and meaning causes. Experimentally inducing meaning and attentional failure each separately lead to boredom (Study 1), and both over- and understimulation can lead to attentional failure that results in boredom (Study 2). Finally, different types of boredom lead to differing downstream consequences for people’s subsequent preferences for interesting versus enjoyable activities (Study 3). Much like pain, boredom provides unpleasant but important feedback about our lives, telling us whether we want and are able to focus on what we are doing.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
boredom, emotion, attention, meaning, interest

This work was supported in part by a Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology Heritage Dissertation Award.

Significant portions of this dissertation, including much of the introduction and all reported data (with the exception of Study 3), have been published in:

Westgate, E.C., & Wilson T.D. (in press). Boring thoughts and bored minds: The MAC model of boredom and cognitive engagement. Psychological Review.

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