Technically, our lab defines boredom as a state of cognitive and affective discomfort, arising from attentional constraint to uninteresting and under-stimulating situations.
Boredom has a very specific evolutionary role. It reminds us that we are no longer receiving the proper amount of reward, excitement, or stimulation from our environment, and that something needs to change. In other words, it motivates us to seek new challenges that are sufficiently stimulating.
Boredom that is felt by the individual as persistent and distressful may be a very sensitive indication of a failure of self-regulation, leading to psychopathology. If one were to become bored, an individual would likely know that there are a range of activities that can alleviate boredom, and furthermore, have an understanding of which one is appropriate at a given time.
Some people never feel bored, because they have regulated their daily routines to the extent that they are always engaged in something interesting. Therefore, the individual who is chronically bored is one who may not have developed the ability to regulate his or her daily life. This lack of self-regulation may be an indicator of an underlying psychopathology that prohibits the individual from properly interacting with the environment.
Boredom is ennui. Boredom has deep philosophical roots, defined as ennui, the french word for "a gripping listlessness or melancholia caused by boredom; depression." Ennui has been described in length by existentialist and phenomenological philosophers such as Arthur Schopenahauer, Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Soren Keirkegaard, and Erich Fromm. Schopenauer best described the utility of studying the effects of boredom:
“If life — the craving for which is the very essence of our being — were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing.”
The following is an excerpt from Dr. Todman's article
originally presented at the International Conference on Psychology in Athens, Greece, July 9-10, 2007,
and reprinted in "Psychological Science: Research, Theory, and Future Directions," K.A. Fanti (Ed.).
Boredom is a common and pervasive subjective state that is known to have important implications for human performance in industrial and academic settings. However, there has been considerably less interest in boredom among clinical researchers. This is surprising given the centrality of anxiety, depression and other negative mood states in contemporary theories of psychopathology. More recently, Todman (2003) has argued that persistent boredom can adversely affect the course and treatment of a variety of psychiatric disorders and may be a sub-clinical or prodromal expression of anhedonia. Findings from three studies are discussed in the context of this putative anhedonia-boredom relationship.
As is the case with any emotion, a truly comprehensive definition of boredom should encompass a variety of perspectives and levels of explanation. Specifically, it should be possible to define boredom in terms of its phenomenology, its objective/observable features, its physiological underpinnings, and its functional characteristics. The research that will be described in the following pages has been guided by a definition that is an amalgam of views from several different authors, including that of Mikulaus and Vodanovich (1993) who have proposed that boredom is a ‘state of low arousal and dissatisfaction, which is attributed to an inadequately stimulating situation’ (p.3).