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Boredom by Sensation-Seeking Interactions During Adolescence: Associations with Substance Use, Externalizing Behavior, and Internalizing Symptoms in a US National Sample

Abstract

During adolescence, sensation seeking is linked to several adverse outcomes including substance use, risk taking, and psychopathology. Recent empirical interest in the construct of boredom has revealed that some similar associations may exist for boredom during adolescence. Both boredom and sensation seeking peak during adolescence, and yet, research on boredom and its interaction with sensation seeking are limited. In a multi-cohort, US nationally representative sample of 8th and 10th grade students from the monitoring the future study, latent-moderated structural equation modeling was used to estimate the association of boredom, sensation seeking, and their interaction, to substance use, externalizing behavior, and depressive affect. Moderation by gender was also tested. Boredom and sensation seeking were both significantly associated with most dependent variables. Significant interaction effects were found wherein individuals high on both boredom and sensation seeking reported the highest levels of depressive affect and externalizing behavior. There were no significant interaction effects for substance use indices. Gender moderation was found for depressive affect. The results of this study demonstrate the generalizability of boredom associations and the significance of boredom by sensation-seeking interactions across multiple mental health domains during adolescence. Prevention efforts that attend to both boredom and sensation seeking may be particularly effective for promoting mental health and preventing externalizing behavior.

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Notes

  1. Preliminary analyses indicated that findings were quite similar across 8th and 10th graders; thus, it was justified to combine the two grades in the analyses.

  2. Two items were adequate to form the construct of boredom due to the large sample size (see Schermelleh-Engel et al. 2003).

  3. In auxiliary OLS regression analyses (that are not ideal because they contribute to inflated measurement error), the inclusion of covariates led to only slight decreases in the estimates, compared with regression analyses without covariates. On average, the inclusion of covariates decreased the boredom main effects estimates by 0.002 and decreased the sensation seeking main effects estimates by 0.034. The interaction term was, on average, 0.01 less in the covariate model than in the model without covariates. Patterns of significance were identical across the models with and without covariates, with the exception of the interaction term for marijuana use, which went from significant to non-significant with the inclusion of covariates.

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Funding

This work was supported in part by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health (R01DA001411). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Valerie A. Freund.

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Freund, V.A., Schulenberg, J.E. & Maslowsky, J. Boredom by Sensation-Seeking Interactions During Adolescence: Associations with Substance Use, Externalizing Behavior, and Internalizing Symptoms in a US National Sample. Prev Sci 22, 555–566 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-020-01198-0

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Keywords

  • Boredom
  • Sensation seeking
  • Substance use
  • Internalizing
  • Externalizing