Bored to Death

boringMany of us are familiar with the old expression, “bored to death,” and usually take it as nothing more than hyperbole. However, a new study has shown that this is more than an overreaction, and an actual possibility. The Mind Scientific American July edition reports that a recent British study examined data collected from civil servants for self reported boredom, and several cardiac risk factors. They were first assessed in the 1970’s looking at different factors, including job satisfaction and boredom. In a follow up in 2010 they found that people were being bored to death. Certainly there were a number of factors that played into these findings such as poor physical fitness, unhealthy diet, and financial stress, but this isn’t the first time that boredom has been linked with undesirable mental and physical conditions.

As parents we have all been told by our children that “this is boring”, or “I’m bored,” and thought nothing of it. Even as students, we have sat in lectures that went on and on and on, and as adults most of us have had that dinner date where we just drum our fingers on our knee quietly and skip dessert. Sometimes boredom may arise from not fully engaging with ones surroundings. Some research suggests that we disengage because of a lapse in focus, meaning the frontal cortex of the brain is out of balance. Recent research suggests that chronic boredom is often linked to depression and often manifests in one of two ways, which are apathetic or agitated boredom. While these are polar reactions, most of us are somewhere in between the two. Boredom is associated with a lack of motivation, and a lack of internal or external stimulation. Think about this, when do you get bored? And more importantly how do you deal with the boredom?

Another thing to consider, is boredom being caused by an external factor, such as brain injury, as many people who have suffered from a brain injury report high levels of boredom. People who have had an intense blow to the head often demonstrate impulsive, risk taking behavior. It is therefore possible to see the correlation as the chronically bored are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, drive recklessly, and practice unsafe sex. The brain region most commonly damaged in a head injury is the orbitofrontal cortex, the region that is responsible for associating events, actions, and decisions with the cognitive and emotional actions. The frontal lobes are also the last part of the brain to develop, and recent research shows that the frontal lobes are not fully developed to the late twenties. So while boredom might not be listed a person’s cause of death on the reports, an idle and restless mind can play a part in risk taking or destructive behavior.

Boredom is more complex that we think. I use to tell my kids, “Only boring people get bored.” Nothing could be further from the truth. To learn more about where the truth lies read the full article that offers many resources for further reading.