Most of us think we already know what it means to be bored, and we’ll look for just about any diversion to avoid the feeling. But according to recent research, boredom is not a one-size-fits-all problem – what triggers or alleviates one person’s boredom won’t necessarily hold sway for someone else.
According to researchers publishing in the journal Motivation and Emotion, there are four well-established types of boredom:
Indifferent boredom (characterized by feeling relaxed and indifferent – typical coach potato boredom);
Calibrating boredom (characterized by feeling uncertain but also receptive to change/distraction);
Searching boredom (characterized by feeling restless and actively searching for change/distraction); and
Reactant boredom (characterized by feeling reactive, i.e. someone bored out of her mind storming out of a movie theater to find something better to do).
The most recent study by the boredom-defining research team has now identified a fifth type--apathetic boredom--and it's the most troublesome of all. People exhibiting apathetic boredom are withdrawn, avoid social contact, and are most likely to suffer from depression. In fact, apathetic boredom could be considered a portal leading to depression.
The sort of remedy that would alleviate “searching bordeom”—actively pursuing change—would not help someone with apathetic boredom, because change itself represents too much of a threat. Apathetic boredom feeds on itself, perpetuating over and over the same feelings that make it so difficult to escape. The uncertainty of change is just another reason to stay cloistered away.
Study co-author Dr. Thomas Goetz of the University of Konstanz and the research team conducted two real-time experiments over two weeks involving students from German universities and high schools. Participants were given personal digital assistants to record their activities, experiences and feelings throughout the day for the duration of the study. The results showed that not only do different people experience different types of boredom, but also that people don't typically switch-hit between flavors of boredom – any given person will tend to predominantly experience one type of boredom far more than others.
The most alarming finding of the study is that apathetic boredom was reported by almost 40 percent of the high school students, suggesting a link between apathetic boredom and rising numbers of depressed teens.
The obvious drawback of this research is that participants self-reported their feelings and experiences during the study period, and self-reporting is often unreliable. On the plus side, the researchers ran the study for two full weeks instead of just a few days, and had far more data to analyze as a result.
The research was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.