Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 555–565 | Cite as

Situational meaninglessness and state boredom: Cross-sectional and experience-sampling findings

  • Christian S. Chan
  • Wijnand A. P. van Tilburg
  • Eric R. Igou
  • Cyanea Y. S. Poon
  • Katy Y. Y. Tam
  • Venus U. T. Wong
  • S. K. Cheung
Original Paper


Theories of boredom assert that boredom is a product of situational meaninglessness. We conducted two studies to test if the perceived meaningfulness of a situation is associated with state boredom, above and beyond sadness, personality traits, and boredom proneness. In Study 1, 105 participants (72.4% female: mean age = 33.9 years, SD = 17.5) described situations in which they experienced boredom, no boredom, engagement, or sadness. They then rated the level of state boredom, sadness, and meaninglessness that they experienced in that situation. As hypothesized, state boredom was associated with situational meaninglessness, before and after controlling for sadness. In Study 2, 148 participants (73.0% female; mean age = 19.2 years, SD = 1.8) first provided baseline data on personality traits and boredom proneness. Through a smartphone app-based experience-sampling method, they then responded to a brief questionnaire multiple times a day, across 7 days. The questionnaire asked about the nature of their current activity, whether the activity was done alone or with other people, and their affective state. Results from multilevel modelling of 3022 entries suggest that perceived meaningfulness of the activity was negatively associated with state boredom, above and beyond sadness, personality, and boredom proneness. We also found that being with others during the activity acted as a moderator; activities lower in perceived meaningfulness were associated with higher ratings of state boredom when done with others than when done alone. These results demonstrate that perceptions of meaninglessness characterize state boredom.


Boredom proneness State boredom Meaning Existential psychology Experience sampling 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian S. Chan
    • 1
  • Wijnand A. P. van Tilburg
    • 2
  • Eric R. Igou
    • 3
  • Cyanea Y. S. Poon
    • 1
  • Katy Y. Y. Tam
    • 1
  • Venus U. T. Wong
    • 1
  • S. K. Cheung
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong
  2. 2.School of PsychologyKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of LimerickLimerickIreland

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