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On the Function of Boredom

DOI: 10.3390/bs3030459

Keywords: boredom, emotion, functional accounts, negative emotion, discrete emotion

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Boredom is frequently considered inconsequential and has received relatively little research attention. We argue that boredom has important implications for human functioning, based on emotion theory and empirical evidence. Specifically, we argue that boredom motivates pursuit of new goals when the previous goal is no longer beneficial. Exploring alternate goals and experiences allows the attainment of goals that might be missed if people fail to reengage. Similar to other discrete emotions, we propose that boredom has specific and unique impacts on behavior, cognition, experience and physiology. Consistent with a broader argument that boredom encourages the behavioral pursuit of alternative goals, we argue that, while bored, attention to the current task is reduced, the experience of boredom is negative and aversive, and that boredom increases autonomic arousal to ready the pursuit of alternatives. By motivating desire for change from the current state, boredom increases opportunities to attain social, cognitive, emotional and experiential stimulation that could have been missed. We review the limited extant literature to support these claims, and call for more experimental boredom research.


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