Why is learning psychology boring

How does boredom come about - and why?

The most boring video ever

For decades, psychology has been using various video clips to create certain moods in its test subjects. There are videos that have been shown to induce happiness, sadness, anger, compassion and many other emotions. While doing her PhD, Colleen Merrifield made a video that should bore most people to death. In the video, two men are standing in a white, windowless room. They silently take items of clothing from a pile between them and hang them on a white stand - a top, a shirt, a sweatshirt, a sock. The seconds are slowly ticking away: 15, 20, 45, 60. And the men continue to hang up the laundry. 80 seconds. One of the men asks the other for a clothespin. 100 seconds. You keep hanging up laundry. 200 seconds. You keep hanging up laundry. 300 seconds. They keep hanging up laundry. Played in a loop, the video can last five and a half minutes.

It's no wonder that the test subjects found the film boring and stupid. But then Merrifield investigated how boredom caused by this video affects concentration and attention. The test protocol provided for a task of a classic cognitive attention test, in which the participants were to observe the appearance or disappearance of star-like light fields on the monitor. Then watch the video, get bored, and then do the same job again. In this way, Merrifield actually wanted to observe the influence of boredom on the cognitive performance of the subjects; but she soon realized that she had to redesign the experiment because the task itself was more boring than the video.

To a certain extent, this was to be expected after previous tests had used precisely such tasks to induce boredom. The problem became clear right away: it was difficult to compare previous studies because boredom had been created in too many ways, for example by correcting address labels or joining nuts and bolts. In addition, several studies come to exactly opposite results; for example, boredom was correlated with an increase in heart rate in one study and with a decrease in another. Without uniform measurement methods, however, it cannot be shown what is actually true.

In 2014, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania compared six ways to induce boredom that fell into three categories: repetitive physical activity, simple brain teasers, and video or audio media. This was the first approach to standardization. Using the MSBS scale, the scientists determined the intensity of the boredom that was triggered and documented the subjects' emotions using questionnaires from the "Differential Emotion Scale". All six tasks ultimately proved to be significantly more boring than the corresponding control tasks, and all six were almost entirely boring and no other emotions. The most successful was the task of turning a bracket on the screen a quarter of a turn further clockwise with a mouse click.

"This makes boredom a measurable factor"
(Shane Bench)

"I think you can induce boredom in the laboratory even without video," said Danckert after the experiment and now wants to focus more on behavioral tasks. However, the lack of accuracy of the tools leaves many questions unanswered. A number of problems in our world, be it addiction, gambling addiction or appetite, correlate strongly with boredom and are clearly related to the self-control of those affected. "I would describe boredom as a lack of self-regulation," says Danckert. "Those affected have problems dealing with the tasks of their normal environment. The better the self-control of the individual, the lower the likelihood of falling into boredom."

But is that why self-control and boredom are different levels of the same feeling? Not even Danckert is sure of that. "Let's look at people with a brain injury. Their problem is self-control failures," he says. "They sometimes react inappropriately impulsively, are more willing to take risks and are more prone to drug and alcohol abuse." Danckert observed all of this with his brother Paul after his accident.