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The nature and origins of boredom

Perkins, Rachel E

The nature and origins of boredom Thumbnail


Rachel E Perkins


It has been assumed, stemming from the work of Hebb (1955, 1966) and Berlyne (1960, 1967), that boredom occurs when stimuli are physically monotonous. Further the authors argue that boredom is accompanied by an aversive state of physiological arousal. Others (Thackray etal, 1974, 1975; Bailey etal, 1976) have argued that boredom is more closely related to ttentional processes than to arousal and thus is associated with an increase in heart rate variability. The purpose of the work reported was to examine these two notions. A series of experiments using techniques derived from personal construct theory (Kelly, 1955) strongly suggested that physically monotonous stimulation is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the occurrence of boredom. Reterospective studies using such techniques revealed that boring activities are instrumentally less satisfying of motivational needs, and are associated with a significantly higher degree of frustration, than disliked or interesting activities.
Studies producing boredom in the 'here and now' using repertory grid techniques revealed that boredom is associated with subjective, rather than physical monotony. Psychophysiological recording techniques were used to compare changes in the heart rate variability index of attention and the heart rate index of arousal during boredom produced by tasks imposing different mental loads. This study suggested that changes in such indices are task rather than boredom dependent. A model of boredom is presented, on the basis of the experimental evidence, which distinguishes the cognitive and affective components of boredom. It is argued that when a person makes few instrumentally satisfying constructions of stimulation, that stimulation will be perceived as subjectively monotonous and consequently boring. The negative affect associated with boredom appears to be a function of a high degree of overall frustration.


Perkins, R. E. (1981). The nature and origins of boredom


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