Why Do We Get Bored?

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Hey, Vsauce. Michael here. Action and danger is exciting but this is a fake gun and the process of enlarging a hole,
like the barrel of a gun, is called boring. Boring. Boring a hole is a slow process requiring repetitive
movements from a tool that goes in circles, which may be why things that are slow
and repetitive and don’t appear to be going anywhere came to be described with the same word.
They’re boring. But why do we get bored and why does it matter?
Evidence of being temporarily uninterested in anything
happening – boredom – has been found as far back as ancient Pompeii. Boredom is a feeling we don’t like. It’s uncomfortable but it’s trivial, right?
I mean, boredom happens to all of us but now we have Facebook and Twitter and YouTube
and texting and Candy Crush to keep ourselves occupied.
So, really, who cares?
Well, here’s the thing. Physical pain, heartbreak and nausea are also uncomfortable but they’re caused by dangerous serious toxic things, whereas boredom occurs when you are merely disinterested
in the outside world and the inner world of your thoughts,
when you are alone with just yourself.
So, does the existence of boredom mean that
when it really comes down to it life itself existing isn’t really enough? Arthur Schopenhauer said that “if life possessed in itself a positive value in real content, there would be no such thing as boredom.
Mere existence would fulfil and satisfied us.”
But apparently it doesn’t because boredom exists.
Is something wrong with being, or is something awesome about us?
Nearly 200 hundred years ago
Giacomo Leopardi wrote in a letter to his father “boredom is the most sublime of all human
emotions because it expresses the fact that the human
spirit, in a certain sense, is greater than the entire universe.
Boredom is an expression of a profound despair
and not finding anything that can satisfy the souls’ boundless needs.”
So, while superficially boredom might seem trivial or childish, embarrassing, almost rude to admit to feeling, one thing’s for sure – boredom isn’t boring.
When bored, your brain activity only drops about 5% and magnetic
resonance images of people’s brains while they were bored actually showed
greater activity in regions responsible for recalling autobiographical memory, conceiving the thoughts and feelings of others and
conjuring hypothetical events – imagining.
Jennifer Schuessler wrote about this in her appropriately titled essay “Our boredom, Ourselves.”
She points out that in line with neurological evidence, boredom historically has been
“an important source of creativity, well-being and our very sense self.” It’s an imposed state that leaves us to think about ourselves, notice things
we may have overlooked and get “ancy” enough to take productive actions we might have otherwise put off, like cleaning, writing or challenging the mind with puzzles and games. As a pressure to move, boredom may have driven us to accomplish much of
what we have achieved. But how do you measure boredom?
The boredom proneness scale, ‘BPS’, assess an individual’s propensity for getting bored, in a sense their ease of being attentive.
Average scores range between 81 and 117. We can take scores on the BPS and correlate them with other things.
For instance, people who know themselves well can easily label their feelings,
have high levels of self-awareness, tend to have a lower propensity score feeling bored. But when it comes to feeling boredom frequently, the culprit may be one’s own physiology. Individuals with fewer dopamine
receptors in the brain tend to need more excitement to stay stimulated, meaning chronic boredom may be a symptom of the way your body is.
A symptom that if left unchecked can become something worse Anna Gosline lists depression, anxiety, drug addiction, alcoholism, hostility, poor social skills, bad grades and low work performance. In fact, the National Center on drug
abuse and addiction has reported that the top three risk factors for teenage substance abuse are too much stress, too much spending money and too much boredom.
The Beth Israel Medical Center in New York reports that addicts reported levels of boredom are the only reliable indicator of
whether or not they will stay clean. Our brains need stimulation in order to be healthy, not so much that
they’re overwhelmed but a perfect balance unique to each individual,
under which they can perform optimally, with energized focus,
what psychologists call flow.
Too little stimulation and our brains will act out, hoping to find some somewhere to prevent
something worse from happening.
Our brains have thaasophobia, the fear of boredom.
Peter Toohey’s “Boredom: A Lively History” quotes Norman Doidge’s findings that “nothing speeds brain atrophy more being immobilized in the same environment: the monotony undermines our dopamine and attentional
systems crucial for maintaining brain plasticity.”
Variety and stimulation encourage neurogenesis,
new brain cells and can extend the lives of cells that
already exist in certain regions of the brain.
In order to avoid a lack of stimulation, our brains will even try to make up
their own stimulations – hallucinations.
Hallucinations can be induced in almost anyone’s brain,
if there isn’t enough stimulation around.
For instance, the ganzfeld effect. When exposed to random noise and
unchanging monochromatic field, the brain freaks out and starts
generating hallucinations. The effect can also be induced with
ping pong balls hemispheres over the eyes and a radio tuned to static. Extended sensory deprivation in a special chamber that eliminates site, sound, smell, taste
and tactile sensations by floating the body in a special fluid
to reduce the sensation of weight can also cause hallucinations as well as anxiety.
When denied proper stimulation, the brain goes through phases that begin
with boredom and if left unchecked can become worse. It’s a phenomenon well-documented in
animals confined to cages for long periods of time, and,
in a horrific case, a human child named Genie.
Born in 1957 in Arcadia, California, Genie became one of the most famous
cases of abnormal child psychology.
Her father was abusive to her and her family and delusional. He hated the outside
world and sought to isolate his family from it as best he could.
He confined Genie to a room with only two blacked-out
windows for the first thirteen years of her life.
He often tied her to a toilet chair and never fed her solid food.
When authorities finally found her, in 1970, she had not acquired a language and had the mental age of an 18-month-old child. Genie was extensively studied and became a staple of psychology courses, a rare example of
an impossible experiment.
What if a human child was isolated from human contact, social behaviors and human language.
A feral child, not raised by the proverbial wolves, but instead right in the middle of suburbia.
Genie is still alive today, her identity anonymous, as a ward of the state of California.
Extended under stimulation isn’t just a
punishment inflicted by delusional caretakers, it’s also a punishment inflicted on criminals, especially in the form a solitary confinement. In the Bureau of Prisons, the record for most time spent denied social contact is held and still being set by Thomas Silverstein. Considered extremely dangerous,
Silverstein has been kept in solitude since 1983.
He has barely seen a single other human for the last 29 years. Stories like those are intense and are far beyond everyday occasional boredom, simple boredom.
What you feel when waiting at an airport or listening to an
unengaging lecture is not a disorder, it’s not a moodm it’s an emotion. Robert Plutchik’s
wheel of emotions is a great way to visualize this. The wheel is based on 8 basic emotions extended in order of intensity.
Boredom is positioned as a light version of disgust.
Emotions are not superfluous.
Normal amounts of them have a purpose. Creatures who feel emotions are often
compelled to do and not do more complicated things than merely eating, drinking, sleeping and procreating, like building friendships, apologizing,
loving unconditionally and planning and building for the future.
Disgust is an emotion we don’t like.
It keeps us from doing things. Its purpose is most likely a warning, an alarm triggered
by things that appear rancid, spoiled or toxic,
that could poison us or make us sick. Like a good friend, disgust pushes us
away from such things. It guides us in a healthy direction.
Likewise, boredom protects us.
Monotonous speakers, mind-numbing tasks and overloaded sameness, those things aren’t dirty or poisonous,
they’re just not stimulating enough.
Boredom compels us to new things, fresh stimulation and when it can’t be overcome a propensity to boredom is a sign of a healthy mind. It’s advantageous.
Creatures who felt it wound up doing more, flourished more, which led to
more creatures like themselves, boredness feelers.
So the next time you’re a little bored, be proud. Thank your ancestors,
you are participating in a life improving drive, like hunger or thirst that pushes us toward new and better things. Give yourself time away from the usual distractions to get bored.
It will be boring, but boring is literally how holes get made and perfected.
Not all holes are useful but some become people’s to some pretty cool stuff. And as always, thanks for watching.

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