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Scientists taking an exciting look at boredom

Scientists taking an exciting look at boredom

sam thomas/iStock(NEW YORK) — Bored during COVID-19 lockdown?  You’re not alone. But why is it that some people can cope with boredom better than others? 

That was the question posed by researchers from Washington State University, who looked into how the brain behaves when people are faced with dull tasks. 

To do this, they came up with a really dull task: a mouse-clicking exercise in which 54 people were tasked with clicking a series of pegs on a computer screen. In total, the subjects had to click their mouse some 320 times. 

Researchers found there are two types of people: those who experience boredom a lot, which was linked to higher anxiety and depression, and people who were able to stave off boredom.  For the latter, brain scans showed activity in their left frontal area, the region involved in imagination and creativity. Those people reported they were able to distract themselves, even during the peg-clicking task. 

“We had one person in the experiment who reported mentally rehearsing Christmas songs for an upcoming concert. They did the peg turning exercise to the beat of the music in their head,” says senior author Sammy Perone. “Doing things that keep you engaged rather than focusing on how bored you are is really helpful.”

In the study, published in the journal Psychophysiology, Perone concluded, “Everybody experiences boredom. But some people experience it a lot, which is unhealthy. So, we wanted to look at how to deal with it effectively.”

His team’s findings suggest that those who feel boredom a lot can be taught to positively cope with a dull situation, just like those in the “creative” group managed to do.

“So, we’ll still do the peg activity, but we’ll give them something to think about while they’re doing it,” Perone says.

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