Neurology – The secret of boredom

Time that stretches and stretches like gum: everyone knows this feeling. It is commonly referred to as boredom. But what exactly is behind it? The Canadian neurologist James Danckert observed years ago that brain trauma patients were suffering from boredom – and began to explore the intolerable slowness of the time.

Neurology - The secret of boredom
Boredom – what happens exactly in the brain? (Imago / Westend61)

Susanne R.: “It’s so annoying and unpleasant.”

Daniel: “Yes, like such an endless loop.”

Ulrike F .: “I have longed for a long time since I was bored – and now on holiday, I even longed for boredom.”

Susanne R .: “Mhm, it is very different!”

Erci Igou: “Can sometimes be very unpleasant, but in boredom, there is also a chance, the chance to redesign life by looking around the sources of the meaning.”

Susanne R .: “Then suddenly the announcement that the flight is delayed and nobody says how long, so I have to wait, I have no choice but to wait.”

Susanne R., Betriebswirtin, 45 years old. Boredom, she says, is rarely experienced. But sometimes, early in the morning, she catches her. Susanne R .:

“I’m sitting there, looking around, looking at the other people who look at the display board just like me, look at the clock, the second hand goes horribly slowly, I look for the third time or the fourth time My flight ticket is still there, get up again, go around a bit and I sit down again, someone from the other waiters gets up, goes to the toilet, I look at the people, the others sit as I there and I look at the clock again, I look down at the ground, then some kind of unpleasant feeling comes up, hard to describe, so a feeling in the chest, and then I think : When does it stop here, when does it finally go on? ”

Quote Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher: The general overview shows us as the two enemies of human happiness the pain and boredom.

It is bothersome and disgusts the day. This is probably the first thought when someone thinks of boredom. The second: Why do people get bored – and others do not? This also wondered James Danckert one day – and found his new research topic:

“What brought me to boredom, was my work with people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.”

Boredom as a terribly unsatisfying feeling

As a clinical neuropsychologist, the Canadian initially looked after patients. James Danckert:

“craniocerebral trauma is injury caused mainly by hard collisions Someone moves as his car into a wall or falling from a wall Such accidents can be the brain against the skull bounce Many of these patients have… Then problems that can not control properly, abstract thinking, their judgment, their ability to make decisions, all this can be disturbed by injuries to the frontal cortex in the brain. ”

Boredom as a terribly unsatisfying feeling
Boredom also manifests itself in impotence and inner emptiness. (Dpa central image)

Danckert noticed that his patients were often sitting around with a grim look.At some point, he asked them if they were more bored since their injury? It was obvious that they were bored. He had expected the answers he received. And yet they stunned him. James Danckert:

“It was not just that every patient responded with” yes, “they all said it was quite enthusiastic. I had the impression that they were really glad that they were finally asking someone for this essential experience they had since They were more bored, unable to get involved in their environment, and it was terribly unsatisfactory for them, and I was the first one to ask them about it.

At the Canadian University of Waterloo James Danckert began to explore boredom. His experiences with the brain trauma patients presented him with the guiding idea: Boredom is an emotion that is essentially related to the loss of self-control. Bored people can not control themselves well and do not know what to do with their environment. Depressive experience similar. James Danckert:

“We were able to show that the relationship between boredom and depression is particularly strong in people with cranial trauma, and earlier studies have already pointed out the statistical relationship between boredom and depression, the more frequently people are bored, the more often they become depressed and depressed Our study shows that this relationship is once again intensified in patients with brain trauma, especially because they are people who have problems with their self-regulation and self-control. ”

Uncomfortable, distracted, restless: boredom has various symptoms

Boredom is now also associated with alcoholism, drug use or eating. But how exactly is the connection? Does boredom produce the behavior? Or is it a companion? Anyone who wants to answer these questions must dissect what we experience in everyday life as boredom. Susanne R .:

“Physically, I feel more restless and annoyed. This is such a diffuse feeling that is a mood, I do not so right to do something with me, I’m cranky, too scattered, especially the time goes so” Extremlangsa m “So I have the feeling that the time is stretching, terribly tough flowing and not passing.”

Please tick on a scale from 1 to 7 what applies to you:

It is easy for me to concentrate on my activities.

I often come in situations where I have to do senseless things.

The so-called “Boredom Proneness Scale”. With this questionnaire, researchers are trying to figure out how vulnerable people are for boredom.

I can do well myself.

Most of the time I sit around and do nothing.

It bores me terribly to watch the amateur films or holiday photos of other people.

Questions are a way to measure existing boredom. In addition, researchers are making every effort to bore test subjects in the laboratory deadly. Some of them read page numbers. Others torment them with videos about fish farming. James Danckert has been trying for some time:

Uncomfortable, distracted, restless: boredom has various symptoms
Just past landscapes: Is that boring? (Dpa / MC Hurek)

A white, windowless room in a laundry. Two men face each other with a stack of clothes. Each of them takes a part of his stack and hangs it on a clothesline. A trouser, a shirt, a sock. Handle to the stack, handle to the laundry clamps. Hanging. Then the next. After 80 seconds, the man asks the other if he can have a clothes peg from him. He can. Then they hang up their garments again.

“Two guys hanging in a laundry,” Danckert’s PhD student Colleen Merrifield has produced the video. James Danckert:

“Interestingly enough, our testimonies are laughing, seeing how these two men hang up one piece of clothes after another, and believe that something comical will happen, and it looks really funny at first.”

The longing for something meaningful

But then the mood changes regularly. James Danckert:

“After about 30 seconds, you will realize that this video will not happen much more, and that is what bores them extremely. And this could be the key to really understand boredom: it is that people do not change in the Future. ”

Danckert’s test persons project something into an apparently dull scene. Is there longing for something meaningful?

Quote Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer: Boredom is the desire for desires.

Igou: “I was influenced by the writings of the good old Erich Fromm, who also wrote a lot about boredom, it was never his main theme, but it is so in some of his writings.”

Eric Igou is not a clinical psychologist like James Danckert, but a social psychologist at the Irish University of Limerick. He is particularly interested in what people are bored with as they deal with the intolerable slowness of the times and what social consequences this can have. In doing so, the ideas of the German social psychologist Erich Fromm helped him to think about the meaning of life. Eric Igou:

“Fromm has seen boredom in connection with the meaninglessness of life, that is, the senseless meaninglessness of life, and that people want to find answers to it, in various forms And this feeling of boredom seems to be so anchored that it reminds people that they really want to live a meaningful life Eric Igou:

“The process can be creative because it is very hard for people to accept that their life is not meaningful, and if there is the possibility to choose an alternative that promises meaning, then do it.”

Daniel: “When I was bored, I imagined that the floor is lava, now just in younger years.”

Boredom can be creative

Daniel, student 23 years. He remembers how he was bored with his childhood.

“And then I jumped from my bed to the table and had just tried not to touch this lava and to make a little contest with myself, a little adventure in my own room, in my own realm and that Then sometimes so long, until I opened up other possibilities, and one could go with friends football games or something similar.

Boredom can be creative
Fatigue through boredom? It is not always bad doing nothing. (Picture alliance / dpa)

Eric Igou’s studies, conducted together with Wijnand van Tilburg at Kings College, London, show that boredom can make people creative and take them off in daydreams. The search for meaning influenced test persons also, when the researchers tested their willingness. Eric Igou:

“We see that people who are bored donate more money to an aid organization than if they are less bored.”

But there is also a downside to the longing for meaning and meaning. Eric Igou:

“We have carried out an experiment on the extent to which the test persons identify with their own group, in which case, as the studies were carried out in Ireland, we then asked for Irish symbols as to how important the Irish symbols are compared to them Other symbols, and then it turned out that these Irish symbols were also extremely positive when people were bored when compared to people who were less bored. ”

Does boredom produce nationalism? Eric Igou relativizes this. On the one hand, this is only a matter of laboratory tests. Nobody knows yet, from which threshold boredom influences the life sustainably. In addition, Igou emphasizes the fact that in boredom, only what is already in a human being is strengthened. People who tend to boredom radicalize the ideology they represent. Eric Igou:

“In the studies we have done, we see that there is polarization, depending on boredom, that is, if there is already a certain predilection for the one direction or for the other direction, then it is so That it becomes more extreme under boredom, which can now be good or bad ideologies, which is intensifying, and we now have a study that we will soon publish, that people who are religious become more religious through boredom.

Boredom eat and drink more

The hunger for meaning and meaning, which rummages in the boredom, can also show itself physically. Eric Igou:

“We find that people who have this susceptibility to boredom are eating more unhealthily, that is, eating fatty calorie-rich food more than the people who are less bored, especially those with high self-awareness, That we have found it, because it is precisely for people that this conflict is the strongest. Being bored reminds people that life is not meaningful and that expresses itself thus: those flee into the calories into which Fat food, which is often associated with pleasure, this food, and this reduces the attention that could be directed to this existential conflict.

An empty room. In the middle of a chair. 42 In a study by American psychologists, sixteen men should sit down for six to fifteen minutes, each with his inner life. Half of the test persons said afterwards that they felt uncomfortable. Almost two-thirds of the men pressed at least once a button, which gave them a slight electric shock, the women were every fourth. So strong was her need for a new charm.

One can sink into the boredom and feel it senseless. This explains why people who tend to be bored are more depressed. But one can also look for something that promises or distorts meaning. This explains why boredom eats more, drink, or turn to radical thoughts.

Boredom is a state that people endure hard. People who are in isolation are aware that torture kills that lock people into empty, cold rooms, too. How unbearable can be boredom?

Please tick on a scale from 1 to 7:

Time passes more slowly than usual.

I am trapped in a situation that I consider irrelevant.

“The so-called” Multidimensional State Boredom Scale “, which is about assessing the current experience of boredom.

I feel lonely.

I feel empty.

My mind is wandering about.

Boredom is: If nothing seems to change

Boredom is: If nothing seems to change
If you are relaxed, the time usually goes way too fast. (Dpa / ASA)

The best way to get people to be bored is to study American researchers meticulously. Faced with monotonous videos, their test persons could still digress and flee into daydreams. The test winner, on the other hand, did not give them any chance. Here, they themselves had to go unnervingly senseless and were trapped in it.

You’re sitting at a table. In front of you a computer screen and a mouse. On the computer screen you will see a pointer. You can move it by a quarter turn with a mouse click.

Click on the mouse. Check whether the pointer has turned. Click on the mouse again. Check whether the pointer has turned. Click on the mouse. Check whether the pointer has turned.

Extreme boredom comes when nothing really changes.

Click on the mouse again. Check whether the pointer has turned. Click on the mouse again. Check whether the pointer has turned. Click on the mouse again.

Daniel, 23 years old, student: “It’s like an endless loop that somehow tries to fill this boredom, but in the end you do not have that goal, that is, there is no end.

Click on the mouse again. Check whether the pointer has turned. Click on the mouse again. Check whether the pointer has turned. Click on the mouse again.

What makes the difference between fulfilled idleness and such intolerable endless loops? James Danckert believes he has tracked him in the brain. When his subjects did not expect anything useful before the washing-up video, their neurons fell into a new mode.

“We found that the back regions of the so-called default mode network were activated in the brain, and this network is active at rest when our thinking is not directed to a task, but aimlessly Brain, which was deactivated when the subjects were bored and did nothing. ”

When the brain runs uncontrolled and empty

It was the so-called anterior insular cortex. This brain region is necessary to enter a state in which we control and control our thinking and behavior. The study result is not easy to interpret, but James Danckert’s version is so.

“When the experimentalists saw the laundry soap, they first tried to read out meaning from this meaningless video, but these attempts failed and this is shown by the deactivation of the brain part, which normally causes brain networks with which we can think and act.

When one is really bored, Danckert not only slackens the mind because the outside world no longer provides any incentives. It is crucial that the brain is not prepared for such stimuli at all. It runs uncontrolled and empty. In the meantime, Danckert is convinced that his brain-trauma patients have experienced something similar in their daily lives.

Susanne R .: “Sometimes I start to feel uncomfortable and I do things that are not so good, for example, start eating, nibbling or nibbling, so I’m not even in a bad mood, just with it I do not feel boredom, for she pulls me down. ”

While the brain is dull, the body is light-awake. James Danckert is now convinced that real boredom is accompanied by a relatively high level of physical excitement. He examined the heart rate, the skin resistance, and the cortisol, the stress hormone levels of the test subjects who saw his washing-up video. James Danckert:

“We contrasted with interest and sadness in other videos and found that with boredom the heart beat and cortisol levels increased, while the skin resistance decreased.”

The skin resistance stands for attention and external perception. The fact that he is sinking means that the dormant can no longer control and control their attention, Danckert says. The increase in the heart rate and cortisol levels, on the other hand, showed the extent to which the affected persons are still available. The distinctive boredom of apathy, where this drive had been lost. Boredom “lives”, so to speak, from an inner contradiction: from the tension between willing and non-ability. James Danckert is not alone with this view, but admits. James Danckert:

“This does not mean that the work has already been done with it.”

Too much time is not necessarily negative

There remain questions: Does every bored person automatically lose control? Why do stressed people sometimes long for boredom? There are perhaps alternatives to the formula: “Boredom is equal: Negative feeling and high physical excitement”.

Monika, 20 years, student: “Boredom” is for me such a negative expression of “too much time”. But I find too much time not necessarily negative! ”

Bildungsforscher Thomas Götz: “This is exactly the core of my research over the past few years, that it is too easy to imagine that boredom is not always felt as negative, but it is actually the core of my research work that there are different forms of boredom . ”

The empirical education researcher Thomas Götz from the University of Konstanz is interested in what students and students experience subjectively when they are bored. His team beepers at random intervals by mobile phone or smartphone during their spare time or at school and university. You need to

Are you feeling bored?

If so, do you feel rather fidgety or rather quiet?

Does boredom feel more positive or negative?

On a scale from one to seven, indicate how positive and how negative it feels

Thomas Götz noted that pupils in Germany are bored in half the time of their studies, even in a quarter of the time. Boredom is the most frequently reported emotion in school, for joy, fear, or pride. Even when studying, there seems to be more boredom than one would expect.

Monika: “You are definitely sometimes angry at the professor and wonders why the professors have become, you should have some fun to teach the students.”

However, a different result from Thomas Götz, which brought a study to 63 students and 80 high school students, is a source of excitement. For it contradicts what James Dancker and many of his colleagues believe. Götz also found experimenters who said: boredom is negative and my inner activity is high. But it was by no means the case at all. The feeling was expressed on the boredom-measuring times as positive, sometimes as negatively and also the inner activity swayed clearly. In total, Götz reconstructed from the data material 5 types of experienced boredom. One extreme he calls “apathetic boredom.” Those concerned say they feel very bad and completely inactive. The other extreme has given Götz “indifferent boredom”. Thomas Götz:

“A student, for example, goes to a lecture in the evening, which was perhaps really a hard day, sitting in and suddenly noticing the topic or perhaps the kind of the lecture is not so appealing, one is bored, the time passes slowly Also the epitome of boredom, but actually it is quite pleasant to get bored here, because you are very glad that you go down a bit, that is almost a facet of recreation, it is boring, but actually quite nice. ”

Monika, student: “I would say, if I now have someone beside me, which I like like, then one talks of course with the, than if one now sits alone there and is really there in such daydreams so pure.”

“Little activated and not really badly mooded – indifferente boredom?” For some colleagues of Thomas Götz this is no boredom, but relaxation.

“Yeah, there’s giant lecture at conferences, of course, but that’s just the thrill of science, so it would be boring if we all agreed on what boredom really is.”

Negative and positive boredom forms

Thomas Götz ‘counter-argument: If you are relaxed, the time usually goes way too fast. However, his experimenter states that the time for them is passing slowly. So it was a form of boredom. James Danckert now tries to connect Götzes view with his own. James Danckert:

“I like these works, but interpret them so that these different types are rather different stages of the process in which we are bored.”

But would not they have to happen regularly? Thomas Götz insists that he has found different types of boredom because they occur more often or less frequently in different situations.

“Our studies have shown that the positive boredom forms, especially the indifferent boredom, occur primarily in leisure time, and the negative boredom forms are really increased in performance situations, for example at school, at work or during study.

Social psychologist Eric Igou: “It is part of life, the question is how to react to it and some people may be better off than others.”

Is boredom in the core is that one feels bad and is internally highly activated? Are all deviations from this only stages on the way to real boredom? Or are there different ways to get bored?

What is clear is that boredom has different facets. If these facets can be grasped, it might be possible to judge when a boredom needs therapeutic help. Or vice versa decide that boredom is exactly what a person needs occasionally – because it brings him to interesting and creative thoughts.

Quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: When the monkeys could get it to go, at least bored, so they could be human.

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