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Boredom linked to poor attention, ADHD, depression

September 19, 2013|ADHD

While boredom is a very common experience, it's rarely studied.

Available research suggests that it’s related to poor attention and an increase in symptoms of ADHD and depression.  A recent article from the American Psychological Association offers an interesting look at boredom, how it impacts our daily lives, AND how it might impact behavioral health treatment.


“Even though boredom is very common, there is a lack of knowledge about it,” says Wijnand van Tilburg, a psychologist at the University of Southampton. “There hasn’t been much research about how it affects people on an everyday basis.”

Now that’s changing, as scientists have begun to take a closer look at this underappreciated emotion. The results of their research are anything but dull.

Boredom is a universal experience, yet until recently researchers didn’t have a go-to definition of the condition. Psychologist John Eastwood, PhD, of York University in Toronto, decided that was a good place to start. He and his colleagues scoured the scientific literature for theories of boredom and tried to extract the common elements. Then they interviewed hundreds of people about what it feels like to experience that tedious state.

They concluded that boredom is best described in terms of attention. A bored person doesn’t just have nothing to do. He or she wants to be stimulated, but is unable, for whatever reason, to connect with his or her environment — a state Eastwood describes as an “unengaged mind” (Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2012).


Some of us are more likely than others to suffer the effects of an unengaged mind. Unsurprisingly, given boredom’s close connection with attention, people with chronic attention problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder have a high propensity for ennui. James Danckert, PhD, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, found that people highly prone to boredom perform poorly on tasks that require sustained attention, and are more likely to show increased symptoms of both ADHD and depression (Experimental Brain Research, 2012).

Chronic boredom can look a lot like depression, but “they’re not the same emotional experience,” Danckert says. Together with Eastwood and other colleagues, he surveyed more than 800 people and found that boredom and depression were highly correlated, but were distinct states (Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2011).

Read more at: Never a dull moment.

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