Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Boredom and motivation
What is the effect of boredom on motivation?
Key points in this chapter
While the existence of boredom has been known and used in literature for some time, defining boredom has been difficult. Boredom can act as an emotion, a drive, state of mind and numerous other constructs which may be both state (environmental) and trait (internal) based in nature. Everyone experiences boredom differently. Most of us know what being bored feels like, or experience stimuli that may be ‘boring’ us to sleep and some people are more susceptible to becoming bored. Boredom interferes with many of our behavioural, cognitive and physiological constructs, often to the detriment of the individual. In the context of motivation, boredom may have an even larger effect. Being motivated requires a number of processes not limited to attention, well-being, satisfaction and reward. Individuals who are more prone to boredom find it harder to focus and attend to stimuli in their environments. People who are prone to boredom are also more likely to gamble, form a drug addiction, find their job dis-satisfactory and have poorer interpersonal relationships. In schools, students who have little motivation and attention due to boredom are more likely to dropout of schooling. Although boredom is mostly seen as negative, recent evidence supports its necessity in our daily lives, particularly for goal setting.
What is Boredom?
The Need For A Concise Definition
Boredom is elusive in definition. No constant definition exists for boredom, which in turn has limited the formation of measures to analyse the construct. Klapp in 1986 defined boredom as: “a state of being trapped in a situation in which there is too little of what we are interested in, and too much of what we are not interested in”. Similarly, Fischer described boredom asunpleasant state in which the individual feels a lack of interest and has difficulty concentrating (Fischer, 1993). Describing what it feels like to be bored, Conrad suggested that boredom is a subjective dissatisfaction with a stimulus relative to expectations (Conrad, 1993). While definitions may differ, in essence boredom has a large motivational and attentional component in its construct. Boredom also contains a disengagement with the present whether through dissatisfaction or loss of concentration.
Different types of boredom may be evident in the individual based on the personsmotivational state. Apathetic boredom is signified by a lack of motivation to engage in the environment. Attention is the biggest component of this state of boredom. A person who exhibits an agitated boredom-state is motivated and ready to engage, but cannot be satisfied by the environmental stimuli. Certainly, some individuals are much more prone to boredom than others and therefore understanding its formation and minimization is important especially in social environments such as school and work.
Development of Boredom in Society
Little mention of boredom as it is defined today has been found prior to the 19th century apart from in some religious texts and plays. With the rise of individuality, social and cultural changes, boredom quickly become a common notion. Increasing affluence bought with it an increase in leisure and also an increase in boredom (Spacks, 1995). People were intent on seeking enjoyment, but also gained the inconvenience of boredom – a fundamental component of the newfound happiness (Spacks, 1995). As we edge closer to the present, boredom has become less about scrutinising the individual for being bored, but rather attributing these feelings to the environment for not supplingthe necessary satisfaction (Spacks, 1995). Advertising has famously grasped this concept and has extended our need for enjoyment with companies motivating us to be bold, own exciting things and desire even more. In his 2014 paper, Elpidorou defines boredom as "a state that is about ourselves as much as it is about the world" (Elpidorou, 2014). So, it seems that boredom is an inevitable concept in our modern world, maybe even a balance between leisure and other constructs such as motivation .
How is boredom measured?
To date, only two substantial measures are consistently used in boredom studies. The first of these, the boredom proneness scale (BPS) was developed in 1986 by Farmer and Sundberg. Consisting of 28 true or false self-report questions, a number of studies have achieved substantial results using the BPS (Vodanovich, 2003). Factor analysis studies have shown that between two and five factors are associated with the BPS (Alda, et al., 2015). Almost all factor analytic studies have found an internal factor concerned with the individual’s cognition and an external factor associated with the stimuli in the external environment and arousal levels (Vodanovich, 2003).
The BPS has been implemented in many real world environments such as job satisfaction, education and clinical assessment when disorders such as depression and anxiety are present. Although the BPS has generated substantial outcomes, obvious limitations are present. An operant definition of boredom does not exist in the BPS reducing reliability of its measures. Secondly, the BPS only measures trait-boredom or innate boredom and does not account for state-boredom or transient boredom (Vodanovich, 2003). As a result, researchers yearned for an experimental based measure.
In 2011, Fahlman et al., developed the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale (MSBS). The MSBS was formed using theoretical and psychometric principles and utilises ‘state’ boredom in experimental settings. Composed of 29 self-report measures, the MSBS is performed with an experimental group that undergoinduced boredom. The MSBS produces five discernable factors that include disengagement, high arousal, low arousal, inattention and time perception (Alda, et al., 2015). While the MSBS is significantly more reliable than other boredom measures, a number of limitations still exist such as self-reporting bias and the complexity of the scale (Alda, et al., 2015).
Attention, Boredom and Motivation
Perhaps the largest component of boredom and its influence on motivation is attention. Eastwood and colleagues define boredom as a "state that occurs when the person is not able to successfully engage attention with internal or external information required for participating in satisfying activity" (Eastwood et al., 2012). Using similar definitions, a number of studies have found that attention plays a large role in boredom and subsequent motivation.
In the workplace, boredom has been shown to lead to increased job dissatisfaction, absenteeism and poor work habits. Boredom also increases lethargy, weariness and may lead to a greater risk of workplace accidents and horse play (Loukidou et al., 2009). For companies this could result in huge amounts of profit loss and reduced productivity. Many studies have looked at effective minimization of boredom in the workplace by increasing satisfaction, motivation and attention. Monotonous and repetitive work was originally viewed as the cause of workplace boredom yet workplace boredom still remains high whilst monotonous labor type jobs have declined linearly over time (Mael and Jex, 2015). Nowadays, many companies attempt to limit boredom in the workplace by providing variable and non-repetitive tasks when possible to keep arousal and attention levels high. In other attempts, the introduction of co-workers or mentor-ship has been shown to both increase and decrease boredom, perhaps due to the personality traits and interpersonal skills carried by the workers (Loukidou et al., 2009).
The treatment of boredom can be performed through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and similar cognitive restructuring techniques. Rather than the removal of boredom inducing stimuli, individuals are given strategies to help them engage and attend to the task at hand. Creating effective goals is also important for treatment (Mael and Jex, 2015).
Relevant Theories of Motivation
A number of theories are relevant to understanding the effect boredom has on motivation. Below are some examples of motivational theories that have been shown to be hindered by boredom.
Arousal Theories of Motivation
Arousal theories centre on the external stimuli in our environments for motivation. Arousal theories tells us that when our arousal levels drop below a particular physiological threshold we seek out stimulation. In the case of boredom, the availability of stimulation in the environment does not meet our physiological demands and we become dissatisfied and bored. In turn, this decrease in arousal and dissatisfaction causes us to lose attention, wander our mind and enter a negative emotional state (Eastwood et al., 2012). Arousal theories of motivation and boredom focus solely on the environmental conditions to explain our boredom. Boredom that is induced by environmental factors is referred to as 'state' boredom. Another definition of boredom that is influenced by the environment is agitated boredom. Although the individual may be motivated, the lack of stimulation by the environment causes a state of boredom. This is different to 'trait' boredom which focuses on our innate and cognitive processes and may be investigated better using cognitive theories of motivation.
Cognitive Theories of Motivation
The overarching principle of cognitive motivational theories is that performance and persistence of a behaviour is influenced by the value of the goal being achieved (Brewin, 1987). Motivation will be minimal if the goal has little value to the individual and motivation will be high if the goal is extremely valuable (Brewin, 1987). In the context of boredom, cognitive motivational theories focus on the internal cognitive components of the individual, but also include the contributing environmental factors (Eastwood et al., 2012). Cognitive processes of boredom may be affected by attention and concentration and although these in isolation may be easy to treat or remedy using behavioural therapy, the complexity of these cognitive processes is often confounded by other variables such as depression, addiction and anxiety (Perkins and Hill, 1985)(Eastwood et al., 2012). Other related domains of psychology such as personality and trait theories suggest that our proneness to boredom may be influenced byparticular inherited traits (Perkins and Hill, 1985). The effect that boredom has on our motivation from a cognitive perspective can be said to be large as motivation requires productive functionality of these processes.
Self-actualization can be found in more than onetheory but is most often referenced in the higher stage of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in his human motivational theory. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is composed of a number of stages beginning with the most primitive physiological urges and ending with the individual attaining self-actualization and transcendence. Maslow suggests that we are motivated to attain each stage as we progress in life and to over come the obstacles confronting us to complete each stage (Maslow, 1943). The self-actualisation stage of the hierarchy of needs motivates the individual to reach their maximum potential and achieve ones ‘true self’ by desire and drive and may often utilise spiriituality and well being. This can only be achieved if the lower stages in the hierarchy have been fulfilled, without which the individual will not have the grounding to achieve the higher stage, self-actualisation (Maslow, 1943). Someone who is self-actualised likely possesses a number of traits that enabled the individual to accomplish this stage of the hierarchy. More prevalent traits in this stage include personal autonomy, compassion, harmonious interpersonal relationships, high levels of integration and many more (Chang and Page, 1991).
It is obviousthen that these traits can be affected by a construct such as boredom. In a study from 1991, McLeod and Vodanovich found that high boredom proneness scores had a negative affect on self-actualisation scores (McLeod and Vodanovich, 1991). This was also found in earlier study from Jones and Crandall in 1986 suggesting that those who showed more traits of self-actualisation were less prone to boredom. In other words, motivation to achieve self-actualisation was hindered by boredom. Studies found that participants with low BPS scores were more productive with their time, had greater social regulation and had greater autonomy. In a further study, from 1993, Leong and Schneider found that high BPS scores were associated with lower sociability scores and poorly developed interpersonal relationships. Finally, those individuals who showed greater amounts of life purpose and well-being scored lower on the BPS (MacDonald and Holland, 2002). This notion should not be a surprise definitions of boredom are taken into account .
Goal Setting and Boredom
Goals give us direction and an option to channel our motivation into effort. Creating and achieving goals is important because they serve a number of fundamental and regulatory cognitive and behavioural processes such as emotion and satisfaction and also counteract boredom (Neil, 2015). Goals may be set intrinsically by the individual with the desire to better themselves and engage meaningfully with the goal. Intrinsic motivation does not involve incentive from external rewards and serves an important role in developing our understanding of our learning and functionality. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand is incentive based and implements external rewards such as money or praise . Parameters such as intensity, or need for the reward will influence the level of effort used to gain the incentive (Neil, 2015). Goals using these forms of motivation may be small or large and require cognitive processes such as planning, attention and effort. As these factors can be influenced by boredom, motivation to complete the desired goals can be affected largely. In recent studies however, boredom has been theorised to be a positive construct in our daily lives .
Boredom is a positive construct
Only in recent years has boredom been viewed as a construct that serves a positive purpose. An article published in 2013 proposed that boredom is an essential component of daily life, and it serves as a functional positive construct in our motivation especially towards goals and their achievement (Bench and Lench, 2013). The authors suggest that boredom is an emotional regulator that acts as a cue for the individual to change goals or pursue an alternative goal when the current goal is insignificant or dissatisfying (Bench and Lench, 2013). In 2014, this theory was further entrenched by Elpidorou who defined boredom as a process that helps “to restore the perception that one’s activities are meaningful or significant” (Elpidorou, 2014). In relation to motivation, boredom ensures that the individual’s motivation and effort are used on correct activities by hindering the processes that are used on insignificant goals. The authors further propose that if boredom did not exist, the individual “would remain trapped in unfulfilling situations and miss out on many emotionally cognitively and socially rewarding experiences" (Elpidorou, 2014). These new theories confirm that boredom has an effect on motivation however they distinguish that boredom like other constructs has an essential place in our daily lives in both positive and negative circumstances.
Boredom is an essential part of our daily lives. For the most part, boredom has a negative impact on motivation, particularly on processes that involve attention and engagement. In its positive form, boredom may act as a deliberate inhibitor of motivation to encourage engagement in an alternate stimuli or task.
Boredom has been shown to influence a number of motivational theories across differing psychological domains. While neither cognitive, arousal nor goal setting theories explain entirely the effect of boredom on motivation, it is clear that substantial effects occur.
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