Skip to main content

Does state boredom cause failures of attention? Examining the relations between trait boredom, state boredom, and sustained attention

Abstract

Boredom is an important personal and social problem, but the phenomena itself remains poorly understood. Recent work has shown that boredom is highly related to attention, and that this relationship may be instrumental in revealing boredom’s causes and consequences. In this paper, experimental findings on trait boredom, state boredom, and sustained attention performance are presented. We demonstrate that trait boredom uniquely predicts sustained attention performance, over and above depression and self-report attention problems. We also present exploratory findings consistent with the claim that attention failures may cause boredom and that sustained attention tasks may themselves be boring. Discussion of each of these findings, and potential ramifications for cognitive research as a whole, is included.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Adler LA, Spencer T, Faraone SV, Kessler RC, Howes MJ, Biederman J, Secnik K (2006) Validity of pilot Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) to rate adult ADHD symptoms. Ann Clin Psychiatry 18(3):145–148

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Antony MM, Bieling PJ, Cox BJ, Enns MW, Swinson RP (1998) Psychometric properties of the 42-item and 21-item versions of the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales in clinical groups and a community sample. Psychol Assess 10(2):176

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Barkley RA (2006) Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a handbook for diagnosis and treatment, 3rd edn. Guilford Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  4. Ben-Zeev D, Young MA, Depp CA (2012) Real-time predictors of suicidal ideation: mobile assessment of hospitalized depressed patients. Psychiatry Res 197(1):55–59

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Berlyne DE (1960) Conflict, arousal, and curiosity. McGraw-Hill, New York

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Bernstein HE (1975) Boredom and the ready-made life. Soc Res 42(3):512–537

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bigler ED (2013) Neuroimaging biomarkers in mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Neuropsychol Rev 23(3):169–209

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Birnbaum MH (2008) New paradoxes of risky decision making. Psychol Rev 115(2):463

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Blaszczynski A, McConaghy N, Frankova A (1990) Boredom proneness in pathological gambling. Psychol Rep 67(1):35–42

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Carriere JS, Cheyne JA, Smilek D (2008) Everyday attention lapses and memory failures: the affective consequences of mindlessness. Conscious Cogn 17(3):835–847

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Cheyne JA, Carriere JS, Smilek D (2006) Absent-mindedness: lapses of conscious awareness and everyday cognitive failures. Conscious Cogn 15(3):578–592

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Crawford JR, Henry JD (2003) The Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS): normative data and latent structure in a large non-clinical sample. Br J Clin Psychol 42(2):111–131

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Csikszentmihalyi M (1978) Intrinsic rewards and emergent motivation. In: Lepper MR, Greene D (eds) The hidden costs of reward: new perspectives on the psychology of human motivation. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillside, pp 205–216

    Google Scholar 

  14. Cummings ML, Gao F, Thornburg KM (2015) Boredom in the workplace: a new look at an old problem. Hum Factors J Hum Factors Ergon Soc 58(2):279–300

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Dahlen ER, Martin RC, Ragan K, Kuhlman MM (2005) Driving anger, sensation seeking, impulsiveness, and boredom proneness in the prediction of unsafe driving. Accid Anal Prev 37(2):341–348

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Damrad-Frye R, Laird JD (1989) The experience of boredom: the role of the self-perception of attention. J Pers Soc Psychol 57(2):315

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. de Bont J (Director) (1994) Speed [Motion picture]. Twentieth Century Fox, Los Angeles

  18. Dockree PM, Bellgrove MA, O’Keeffe FM, Moloney P, Aimola L, Carton S, Robertson IH (2006) Sustained attention in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and healthy controls: enhanced sensitivity with dual-task load. Exp Brain Res 168(1–2):218–229

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Duque A, Vázquez C (2015) Double attention bias for positive and negative emotional faces in clinical depression: evidence from an eye-tracking study. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry 46:107–114

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Dutilh G, Vandekerckhove J, Forstmann BU, Keuleers E, Brysbaert M, Wagenmakers EJ (2012) Testing theories of post-error slowing. Atten Percept Psychophys 74(2):454–465

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Eastwood JD, Frischen A, Fenske MJ, Smilek D (2012) The unengaged mind defining boredom in terms of attention. Perspect Psychol Sci 7(5):482–495

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Fahlman SA, Mercer KB, Gaskovski P, Eastwood AE, Eastwood JD (2009) Does a lack of life meaning cause boredom? Results from psychometric, longitudinal, and experimental analyses. J Soc Clin Psychol 28(3):307

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Fahlman SA, Mercer-Lynn KB, Flora DB, Eastwood JD (2011) Development and validation of the multidimensional state boredom scale (MSBS). Assessment. doi:10.1177/1073191111421303

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Farmer R, Sundberg ND (1986) Boredom proneness—the development and correlates of a new scale. J Pers Assess 50(1):4–17

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Fisher CD (1993) Boredom at work: a neglected concept. Hum Relat 46(3):395–417

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Fisher CD (1998) Effects of external and internal interruptions on boredom at work: two studies. J Organ Behav 19(5):503–522

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Gerritsen CJ, Toplak ME, Sciaraffa J, Eastwood J (2014) I can’t get no satisfaction: potential causes of boredom. Conscious Cogn 27:27–41

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Goldberg Y, Danckert J (2013) Traumatic brain injury, boredom and depression. Behav Sci 3(3):434–444

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Goldberg YK, Eastwood JD, LaGuardia J, Danckert J (2011) Boredom: an emotional experience distinct from apathy, anhedonia, or depression. J Soc Clin Psychol 30(6):647

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Griffin JA, Dember WN, Warm JS (1986) Effects of depression on expectancy in sustained attention. Motiv Emot 10(3):195–205

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hamilton JA, Haier RJ, Buchsbaum MS (1984) Intrinsic enjoyment and boredom coping scales: validation with personality, evoked potential and attention measures. Pers Individ Differ 5(2):183–193

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Helton WS, Russell PN (2011) Working memory load and the vigilance decrement. Exp Brain Res 212(3):429–437

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Hollenbeck JR, Ilgen DR, Tuttle DB, Sego DJ (1995) Team performance on monitoring tasks: an examination of decision errors in contexts requiring sustained attention. J Appl Psychol 80(6):685

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Hunter JA, Dyer KJ, Cribbie RA, Eastwood JD (2015) Exploring the utility of the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale. Eur J Psychol Assess. doi:10.1027/1015-5759/a000251

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Jefferies LN, Smilek D, Eich E, Enns JT (2008) Emotional valence and arousal interact in attentional control. Psychol Sci 19(3):290–295

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Kass SJ, Vodanovich SJ, Callender A (2001) State-trait boredom: relationship to absenteeism, tenure, and job satisfaction. J Bus Psychol 16(2):317–327

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Kreutzer JS, Seel RT, Gourley E (2001) The prevalence and symptom rates of depression after traumatic brain injury: a comprehensive examination. Brain Inj 15(7):563–576

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  38. Leary MR, Rogers PA, Canfield RW, Coe C (1986) Boredom in interpersonal encounters: antecedents and social implications. J Pers Soc Psychol 51(5):968

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Lee CM, Neighbors C, Woods BA (2007) Marijuana motives: young adults’ reasons for using marijuana. Addict Behav 32(7):1384–1394

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. LePera N (2011) Relationships between boredom proneness, mindfulness, anxiety, depression, and substance use. New Sch Psychol Bull 8(2):15–25

    Google Scholar 

  41. Leventhal H, Scherer K (1987) The relationship of emotion to cognition: a functional approach to a semantic controversy. Cogn Emot 1(1):3–28

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. London H, Monello L (1974) Cognitive manipulation of boredom. In: London H, Nisbett R (eds) Thought and feeling: cognitive alteration of feeling states. Aldine, Chicago, pp 44–59

    Google Scholar 

  43. Malkovsky E, Merrifield C, Goldberg Y, Danckert J (2012) Exploring the relationship between boredom and sustained attention. Exp Brain Res 221(1):59–67

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. Martin M, Sadlo G, Stew G (2006) The phenomenon of boredom. Qual Res Psychol 3(3):193–211

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Matthews G, Davies DR (1998) Arousal and vigilance: the role of task factors. In: Hoffman RR, Sherrick MF, Warm JS (eds) Viewing psychology as a whole: the integrative science of William N. Dember. American Psychological Association, Washington, pp 113–144

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  46. Matthies S, Philipsen A, Svaldi J (2012) Risky decision making in adults with ADHD. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry 43(3):938–946

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  47. Mayer AR, Yang Z, Yeo RA, Pena A, Ling JM, Mannell MV, Stippler M, Mojtahed K (2012) A functional MRI study of multimodal selective attention following mild traumatic brain injury. Brain Imaging Behav 6(2):343–354

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Mercer-Lynn KB, Hunter JA, Eastwood JD (2013) Is trait boredom redundant? J Soc Clin Psychol 32(8):897

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Merrifield C, Danckert J (2014) Characterizing the psychophysiological signature of boredom. Exp Brain Res 232(2):481–491

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. O’Connell RG, Bellgrove MA, Dockree PM, Lau A, Fitzgerald M, Robertson IH (2008) Self-alert training: volitional modulation of autonomic arousal improves sustained attention. Neuropsychologia 46(5):1379–1390

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. Oddy M, Humphrey M, Uttley D (1978) Subjective impairment and social recovery after closed head injury. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 41(7):611–616

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  CAS  Google Scholar 

  52. Patton JH, Stanford MS (1995) Factor structure of the Barratt impulsiveness scale. J Clin Psychol 51(6):768–774

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  53. Pattyn N, Neyt X, Henderickx D, Soetens E (2008) Psychophysiological investigation of vigilance decrement: boredom or cognitive fatigue? Physiol Behav 93(1):369–378

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  54. Paus T, Zatorre RJ, Hofle N, Caramanos Z, Gotman J, Petrides M, Evans A (1997) Time-related changes in neural systems underlying attention and arousal during the performance of an auditory vigilance task. J Cogn Neurosci 9(3):392–408

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  55. Robertson IH, Ward T, Ridgeway V (1994) The test of everyday attention. Thames Valley Test Company, Flempton

    Google Scholar 

  56. Robertson IH, Manly T, Andrade J, Baddeley BT, Yiend J (1997) Oops!’: performance correlates of everyday attentional failures in traumatic brain injured and normal subjects. Neuropsychologia 35(6):747–758

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  57. Rupp DE, Vodanovich SJ (1997) The role of boredom proneness in self-reported anger and aggression. J Soc Behav Pers 12(4):925

    Google Scholar 

  58. Sawin DA, Scerbo MW (1995) Effects of instruction type and boredom proneness in vigilance: implications for boredom and workload. Hum Factors J Hum Factors Ergon Soc 37(4):752–765

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  59. Scerbo MW (1998) What’s so boring about vigilance? In: Hoffman RR, Sherrick MF, Warm JS (eds) Viewing psychology as a whole: the integrative science of William N. Dember. American Psychological Association, Washington, pp 145–166

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  60. Slovarp L, Azuma T, LaPointe L (2012) The effect of traumatic brain injury on sustained attention and working memory. Brain Inj 26(1):48–57

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  61. Thackray RL, Bailey JP, Touchstone RM (1977) Physiological, subjective, and performance correlates of reported boredom and monotony while performing a simulated radar control task. In: Mackie RR (ed) Vigilance: theory, operational performance and physiological correlates. Plenum, New York, pp 203–216

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  62. Troutwine R, O’Neal EC (1981) Volition, performance of a boring task and time estimation. Percept Mot Skills 52(3):865–866

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  63. van Tilburg WA, Igou ER (2011) On boredom and social identity: a pragmatic meaning-regulation approach. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 37(12):1679–1691

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  64. Video Tutor, Inc. (1995) Easy English: using numbers and money [DVD]. Author, Manasquan

  65. Vodanovich SJ, Wallace JC, Kass SJ (2005) A confirmatory approach to the factor structure of the Boredom Proneness Scale: evidence for a two-factor short form. J Pers Assess 85(3):295–303

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. Wallace JC, Vodanovich SJ, Restino BM (2003) Predicting cognitive failures from boredom proneness and daytime sleepiness scores: an investigation within military and undergraduate samples. Pers Individ Differ 34(4):635–644

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Watt JD, Hargis MB (2010) Boredom proneness: its relationship with subjective underemployment, perceived organizational support, and job performance. J Bus Psychol 25(1):163–174

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Ziino C, Ponsford J (2006) Vigilance and fatigue following traumatic brain injury. J Int Neuropsychol Soc 12(1):100–110

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to John D. Eastwood.

Additional information

Guest edited by James Danckert.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hunter, A., Eastwood, J.D. Does state boredom cause failures of attention? Examining the relations between trait boredom, state boredom, and sustained attention. Exp Brain Res 236, 2483–2492 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-016-4749-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • State boredom
  • Trait boredom
  • Attention
  • Cognition