The Covid-19 pandemic has birthed yet another pandemic: Boredom. And the former is now perpetuating the latter.
According to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, individuals who are more prone to boredom are also more likely to partake in in potentially risky rule-breaking behaviour, thus deying pandemic protocols like staying inside and social distancing.
The most recent research, conducted by the University of Waterloo and Duke University, largely reflects the scientific literature on boredom and its correlation with high-risk behaviour. In fact, as reported by Scientific American, people who find themselves easily bored are at much higher risk for for “depression, anxiety, drug addiction, alcoholism, compulsive gambling, eating disorders, hostility, anger, poor social skills, bad grades and low work performance.”
What’s more, people more susceptible to boredom are more inclined to engage in dangerous, thrill-seeking behaviour, as they generally “do not see their environments as very rich or lively,” according to Stephen Vodanovich of the University of West Florida in Pensacola. Hence: Their need to fill their time with something that they perceive as “livelier”... except those activities may seem “boring” at some point, too.
“Now instead of a coffee doing it for you, you need a triple espresso,” notes James Danckert, a neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, via Scientific American. “Anything that used to give you pleasure now has to be ramped up in order to succeed.”
And such was the case for the Waterloo and Duke analysis, wherein participants completed a survey assessing their Shortened Boredom Proneness Scale and Brief Self-Control Scale, as well as a questionnaire examining compliance with COVID-19 public health protocols. Participants were also queried about their over all experience amid the pandemic, and whether they or a friend or family member had fallen ill.
The results were, unfortunately, just as the authors expected: Chronically bored participants were also more likely to break COVID-19 rules, defying social distancing and quarantine protocols, despite simultaneously having a higher likelihood of actually contracting the virus.
“The urge to act … seems so powerful that people are even willing to act against their own self-interest and interest of others,” the authors said of the findings.
One key takeaway, as reiterated by the authors, is that “public initiatives to reduce boredom during lockdown should both improve rule-adherence and reduce demands on self-control.” This is hopeful news, seeing as, unlike Covid, there is no vaccine for boredom. Even experts find themselves flummoxed by the natural human state, regardless of whether or not we’re in a pandemic.
“Is it an emotion that we can’t understand? I think we can understand it much better than we currently do,” Danckert says. “But like all things in the brain—there will be some parts of it that continue to elude us.”