Three Essays on Boredom
Boredom has consistently been recognized as a powerful emotion that pervades modern society. Yet despite academic, literary, and media commentaries on boredom’s importance, it has historically received sporadic and sparse attention from scientific researchers. This trend of neglect has begun to change course, and researchers have recently made progress in measuring boredom in a given situation, generating a theory of boredom to account for its various causes, and documenting the correlates of boredom proneness. Nevertheless, some significant gaps remain. This dissertation contributes to the rising tide of boredom research by addressing three gaps in the literature. First, the majority of past researchers have confined their examination of boredom to one-shot surveys and laboratory studies, which has narrowed the shape of research questions and can limit the external validity of findings. The first empirical paper (Chapter 2) leverages a rich experience sampling dataset to document boredom’s prevalence, examine its situational and demographic correlates, and explore whether situational differences can account for group differences (e.g., whether men are more bored than women because of differences in how they spend their time). In addition to the gap in empirical work outside the laboratory, the work on boredom inside the laboratory is characterized by a significant methodological limitation, the lack of a validated boredom elicitation task. The second empirical paper (Chapter 3) addresses this methodological gap by testing and comparing the effectiveness of boredom inductions. This necessary methodological development contributes to the internal validity of laboratory experiments, which are indispensable in addressing boredom’s causal factors. Recently, a comprehensive theory outlining boredom’s function and causal determinants was proposed (Kurzban, Duckworth, Kable, & Myers, 2013). However, this theory has not been empirically tested, the main goal of the third essay (Chapter 4). These three essays contribute to empirical knowledge about the experience of boredom in everyday life, provide a validated methodological tool necessary to manipulate boredom in controlled laboratory settings, and advance the development of a comprehensive theory of state boredom that can be used to predict boredom’s occurrence and inform interventions. Taken together, these essays characterize the nature of boredom in society and help explain when, and why, this interesting emotion occurs.