Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 15th 2015 Contents B34
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, May 15, 2015
What were you doing before you started reading
this? Were you fully focused on another article?
Or doing the crossword? Eating breakfast? Organ-
ising your day? Or were you staring out of the win-
dow, feeling restless and bored?
It is more likely to have been the latter. Fleeting
moments of boredom are universal, and are often
what drives us to stop what we are doing and shift
to something that we hope will be more stimulating.
But although boredom is common, it is neither
trivial nor benign, according to Dr John Eastwood,
a psychologist at York University, Toronto. Eastwood
is the joint author of The Unengaged Mind, a 2012
paper on the theory of boredom.
Boredom, he points out, has been associated with
increased drug and alcohol abuse, overeating, depres-
sion, anxiety and an increased risk of making mistakes.
Mistakes at work might not be a matter of life and
death for most of us, but if you are an air traffic
controller, pilot or nuclear power plant operator, they
most certainly can be.
Commercial pilot Sami Franks (not his real name)
confirms that boredom can make pilots lose attention.
"When you fly long haul, there are two pilots, one
of whom is monitoring all the screens while the
other does the paperwork, talks to air traffic control
and so on. You need to be alert for landing and
takeoff, but once you re 500 feet above the runway,
the plane s on autopilot and it can be very quiet and
"In a study I saw of co-pilots who woke up after
a nap, 30 per cent reported seeing the other pilot
asleep too," adds Franks, in a comment that will not
play well with nervous flyers.
The stakes are not usually so high, but boredom
can be protracted, heavy and associated with an
unpleasant sensation, according to Eastwood.
Boredom is most often conceptualised as "the
aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to
engage in satisfying activity."
"All instances of boredom involve a failure of atten-
tion," says Eastwood.
There are three functions involved in attention.
We have to be suitably aroused, so as not to fall
asleep on the job. Then we have an orienting system
that can cut in so that if you cross the road, deep
in thought, you will still respond to a flickering light
on the edge of your visual field that heralds a fast-
approaching car. And the third type of attention is
an executive system that oversees our mental activities,
so we can consciously stay engaged even if the task
is not very interesting. Boredom results when any
of these functions breaks down.
The artist Grayson Perry has reportedly spoken
of how long periods of boredom in childhood may
have enhanced his creativity. "We all need vacant
time to mull things over," says Priyadharshini.
But if boredom can enhance our creativity and be
a signal for change, why is it such a corrosive problem
for some individuals?
People who have suffered extreme trauma are more
likely to report boredom than those who have had
a less eventful time. The theory is that they shut
down emotionally and find it harder to work out
what they need. They may be left with free-floating
desire, without knowing what to pin it on. This lack
of emotional awareness is known as alexithymia and
can affect anyone.
Frustrated dreamers who haven t realised their
goals can expend all their emotional energy on hating
themselves or the world, and find they have no atten-
tion left for anything else. Bungee jumpers and thrill-
seekers may also be particularly susceptible to bore-
dom, as they feel the world isn t moving
fast enough for them. They are always
searching for stimulation.
"The problem is we ve become passive
recipients of stimulation," says Eastwood.
"We say, I m bored, so I ll put on the TV
or go to a loud movie. But boredom is like
quicksand---the more we thrash around,
the quicker we ll sink." (The UK Guardian)
Is boredom bad
for your health?
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
Boredom has been associated with increased drug and alcohol abuse, overeating,
depression, anxiety and an increased risk of making mistakes.
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