You're reading this article now because you stopped doing something else and glanced at Inc.com or searched social media for something of interest. Were you, at that moment, bored?

If you answered yes, you might think that's the end of the story. Another day at the office, another moment of under stimulation, another quick jaunt through the internet looking for something more interesting than the task at hand. But as a fascinating recent article in Nature explains, boredom is anything but boring.

In fact, writer Maggie Koerth-Baker notes, the study of boredom is a new and exciting frontier of scientific research, with psychologists and others just beginning to dig into fundamental unanswered questions like: What is boredom exactly, anyway? How can it be measured? Why is it linked with so many other psychological problems? And how can it be alleviated in places like classrooms?

Studies along these lines are just beginning, but scientists have already turned up one interesting finding. Apparently, there isn't just one way to be bored -- in fact, there are five.

That's the conclusion of recent research from a German team that asked study participants to carry around small devices all day. Periodically, these devices would ask the subjects how they were feeling. If they responded 'bored,' then the gizmos asked for more information. Were the participants restless? Angry? Apathetic? The responses, the team reported, clustered into five different types of boredom.

1. Indifferent boredom

This one doesn't sound so bad: "The indifferently bored feel relaxed and fatigued-but-cheerful. They are generally indifferent to the world and want to withdraw," explains the research release.

2. Calibrating boredom

This second type of boredom will no doubt sound familiar: "People in this state want to do something, but they don't know what. Their thoughts may wander, but they aren't actively searching for alternatives to the dullness." 

3. Searching boredom

This is what happens when you start to get really fed up with being bored. It's "marked by much more active looking for something to do. People experiencing searching boredom are more emotionally aroused and feel more negative than the first two types. They feel restless and think specifically of hobbies or activities they'd prefer to be doing."

4. Reactant boredom

This one is my personal nightmare. "Imagine being trapped in a lecture hall listening to someone drone on about a dull topic for hours on end. That antsy desire to escape illustrates reactant boredom." This is commonly experienced at -- you guessed it -- school or work.

5. Apathetic boredom

This one surprised the researchers -- they didn't expect to find it. It seems to be the sort of unpleasant buzz of experiencing no emotions at all. "People experiencing apathetic boredom reported few positive emotions, but also few negative emotions, unlike reactant boredom. That's not to say the participants enjoyed being apathetically bored... Apathetic boredom was more like depression in that participants felt flat and incapable of emotion." Again, this type was commonly felt in settings, like the office, where people have relatively little control over their own situation.

What's this research good for? Apart from being inherently interesting, it could also offer a momentary escape next time you feel bored. You can certainly kill the emotion for at least a second or two by trying to identify just which type of boredom you're feeling.

How many of these types of boredom have you experienced today?

Published on: Jan 25, 2016
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