In a learning environment, a common cause of boredom is lack of understanding; for instance, if one is not following or connecting to the material in a class or lecture, it will usually seem boring. However, the opposite can also be true; something that is too easily understood, simple or transparent, can also be boring. Boredom is often inversely related to learning, and in school it may be a sign that a student is not challenged enough, or too challenged. An activity that is predictable to the students is likely to bore them.
What can you do about boredom? Obviously, there are times when you are stuck. If you are listening to a lecture that you cannot leave, then you just need to find a way to get through it. When you have some control, though, use your understanding of boredom to help you out. If you can, try to do a meditation exercise to lower your arousal level. Also, keep some music handy. Music you enjoy can crowd out distractions in the environment. It can also influence your mood in positive ways to counteract the pain of being bored.
In Experience Without Qualities: Boredom and Modernity, Elizabeth Goodstein traces the modern discourse on boredom through literary, philosophical, and sociological texts to find that as "a discursively articulated phenomenon...boredom is at once objective and subjective, emotion and intellectualization—not just a response to the modern world but also a historically constituted strategy for coping with its discontents." In both conceptions, boredom has to do fundamentally with an experience of time and problems of meaning.
Without stimulus or focus, the individual is confronted with nothingness, the meaninglessness of existence, and experiences existential anxiety. Heidegger states this idea as follows: "Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole." Schopenhauer used the existence of boredom in an attempt to prove the vanity of human existence, stating, "...for if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfil and satisfy us."
^ Vodanovich, Stephen J. (November 2003) "Psychometric Measures of Boredom: A Review of the Literature" The Journal of Psychology. 137:6 p. 569 "Indeed, a shortcoming of the boredom literature is the absence of a coherent, universally accepted definition. The lack of an agreed-upon definition of boredom has limited the measurement of the construct and partly accounts for the existence of diverse approaches to assessing various subsets of boredom."
The authors of this paper point to an interesting study by Robin Damrad-Frye and James Laird in the August 1989 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In this study, participants had to listen to a tape of a person reading a Psychology Today article. In the next room, there was a television soundtrack from a soap opera playing. For some groups listening to the article, the TV was very loud and distracting, for others it was barely noticeable, and for some it was not playing at all. After listening to the article, people rated their boredom during the study.
One more key element of boredom is control. Boredom often occurs when you have little control over your situation. Waiting rooms, lectures, and airline gates are all places where you have little control over your situation. Normally, we react to unpleasant situations by changing the situation. If you don’t like a book you are reading, for example, you close it and do something else. Boredom happens when you are unable to change the situation.
Some theories emphasize the role of the situation, some emphasize the role of the person, and some emphasize the interaction between situation and person in causing boredom. The present study examines these models by determining whether boredom propensity (person) and/or experimental condition (situation) independently or in interaction affected state boredom. The study also examined the relative contribution of behavioural activation and inhibition to state boredom. Boredom propensity and condition significantly and independently predicted state boredom, as did the interaction between behavioural inhibition and condition. Implications are discussed, including the possibility of two distinct causes of boredom.
Some individuals are more likely to be bored than others. People with a strong need for novelty, excitement, and variety are at risk of boredom. These sensation seekers (e.g., skydivers) are likely to find that the world moves too slowly. The need for external stimulation may explain why extroverts tend to be particularly prone to boredom. Novelty seeking and risk-taking is the way that these people self-medicate to cure their boredom.