The Impact of Boredom

[teenagers looking bored]

Boredom is a subject not often addressed, maybe because it is so boring. What can be said about it? More often than not, boredom leads to trouble. As we know from social media, a large number of adolescent communications begin with “I was bored, so I….” Often, what follows is something a parent would prefer not to have happened.

Judy McGuire reports for Today on a brand new University of Virginia study that was undertaken because Professor Timothy D. Wilson, who teaches cognitive psychology,

…wondered what would happen when people had nothing to distract them from themselves. So he put his subjects in an otherwise empty room with nothing to read, look at or hear for six to 15 minutes.

We will return to Wilson after a relevant digression. Actually, a population has long existed that fulfills the “nothing to hear” criterion. Deaf people suffer deeply from boredom. They don’t long for the opportunity to be alone with their thoughts. They are alone with their thoughts too much. Boredom wreaks serious emotional consequences on deaf children, in the form of isolation and a tendency toward withdrawal. They can suffer from

…sadness or depression, worry and frustration, anxiety and suspiciousness, self-criticism and low self-esteem/self-confidence … tiredness or exhaustion, headache, vertigo, tense muscles, stress, eating and/or sleeping disorders and stomach disorders.

Deaf children are likely to be irritable, angry, and even combative. How many of these negative states of mind and body can be attributed to the corrosive influence of boredom?

This is counterintuitive, but boredom can cause inattentiveness. It might seem like the limitation of distracting stimulation should at least aid concentration, but unfortunately the opposite can be true. In many cases, the negative psychological effects of deafness include poor concentration and the inability to resist distraction.

University of West Florida researchers J. D. Watt and F. E. Davis studied 50 deaf adolescents with regard to depression and boredom proneness. Not surprisingly, the inability to hear makes deaf teenagers more boredom-prone and more depressed than their hearing counterparts, and the report augments both those findings with the adjective “significantly.”

In other words, boredom is no joke; it’s a non-trivial shaper of human experience and development. Lack of stimulation can work on people’s heads, and it can do damage. That’s why police officers, when they bring someone in for questioning, will leave the witness/suspect alone in a bare room for a while, to begin the softening-up process. In corrective institutions solitary confinement is, for the overwhelming majority of prisoners, a dreaded punishment.

Next time: Back to Wilson’s experiment.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Shocking study: People would rather jolt themselves than be alone with their thoughts,”, 07/03/14
Source: “Impact of hearing loss on development of children,”, 07/10/14
Source: “The prevalence of boredom proneness and depression among profoundly deaf residential school adolescents,”, January 1992
Image by Erich Ferdinand

One Response

  1. I happen to have a son in his 40s who has been deaf from birth, who does not suffer from boredom as his work is challenging and satisfying, and he has an active social life, etc. I have, however, studied boredom, which, among other results, is a major cause of overeating.

    Please look on Amazon for my book “The Elephant in the ADHD Room: Beating Boredom as the Secret to Managing ADHD.” (release date is this month) Almost everything in it applies to boredom prone people and people without freedom to engage their interest (like children stuck in boring classes or adults in boring jobs), as well. It has a chapter on addiction. I coach young people or adults with or without ADHD to achieve or find what satisfies them.

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