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Podcast #686: The Psychology of Boredom

When we experience boredom, we tend to experience it as uncomfortable and agitating, and seek to banish it with some ready distraction. Or, we try to look at boredom sort of piously, as something we should learn to sit with, because it builds character.

My guest today would argue that it’s best to see boredom more neutrally — as simply an important signal that we need to change up what we’re doing, and become more effective and engaged in the world.

His name is James Danckert, and he’s a cognitive neuroscientist and professor of psychology, as well as the co-author of Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom. We begin our conversation with how boredom has been thought about in history and philosophy, and yet largely ignored by psychologists. We then discuss what it really means to be bored and what types of people are most prone to boredom. James explains how boredom is related to our sense of agency and the role constraints play in increasing it. We then get into how people’s propensity towards boredom changes across the lifespan, and at what ages you’re more and less likely to experience it. We end our conversation with the negative effects of being boredom prone, including the way boredom may increase political extremism, and the more positive and adaptive ways to deal with being bored.

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Show Highlights

  • Why has psychology ignored the human experience of boredom?
  • How did 20th century existentialists shape how we see boredom today?
  • How is boredom defined? How is it different from apathy?
  • Are there personality traits more linked with boredom than others?
  • How can two people have the same experience and have different boredom responses?
  • What about external factors of boredom?
  • Is there an evolutionary benefit to feeling bored?
  • Is it true that boredom drives creativity?
  • How boredom changes over the course of one’s life
  • Are there any positives to being boredom-prone?
  • How can boredom be re-framed?
  • What can parents say to their bored kids?

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