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“Boredom puts people on edge: It makes them seek engagements that are
challenging, exciting, and that offer a sense of purpose. Political
ideologies can aid this existential quest,” wrote Wijnand A.P. Van
Tilburg of King’s College London and Eric Igou of the University of
Limerick in their study.
The researchers’ previous study
found that boring activities can trigger a sense of meaninglessness in
people, along with a corresponding desire to “reinject meaningfulness in
“Boredom motivates people to alter their situation and fosters the
engagement in activities that seem more meaningful than those currently
at hand,” van Tilburg and Igou explained in their new study. Their
research suggests that adopting a more extreme political ideology is one
way that people reinject meaningfulness into a boring situation.
The study’s findings were based on one experiment and two scientific surveys.
In their initial experiment, van Tilburg and Igou recruited 97 people
from a university campus in Ireland. The participants first indicated
their political orientation (whether they considered themselves liberal
or conservative) before being randomly assigned to complete a very
boring task or a less boring task.
Those assigned to the high boredom group transcribed 10 references
about concrete mixing, while those assigned to the low boredom group
only had to transcribe two of these references. After completing the
boring tasks, the researchers had the participants describe their
political orientation once again. However, this time the participants
indicated their political orientation on a seven-point scale.
The researchers found that liberals in the low boredom group were
more moderate in their political self-identification, compared to
liberals in the high boredom group (this effect was not found for
conservatives. But this could be because the experiment had very few
conservative participants, and was therefore statistically
To expand on these findings, van Tilburg and Igou conducted a survey
of 859 people living in Ireland. The survey found that people who are
easily bored tended to endorse more extreme political views. Another
survey of 300 Irelanders found that being prone to boredom was
associated with searching for meaning in life, which was in turn
associated with political extremism.
“These studies show that political views are, in part, based on
boredom and the need to counteract these negative, existential
experiences with ideologies that seem to provide meaning in life,” Igou
explained in a university press release.
So can we simply blame political extremism on boredom? Not quite.
Though boredom appears to play a role in the political climate, it is
unclear how big of a role it plays. “Political orientations, or the political climate in general, is of
course a complex phenomenon influenced by many variables,” van Tilburg
told PsyPost in an email. “Our research tested and found that boredom is
one of them, but we do not fully test how big its role is.”
“Importantly, it may well be that the importance of boredom in
context of the political climate varies across contexts. For example,
when there are other very strong factors in play then the influence of
boredom may be overshadowed, and vice versa.”
“To gain more insight into the magnitude of boredom’s role one could
test, say, how voters behave in an election and see how that correlates
with individual differences in boredom,” van Tilburg told PsyPost. “At
present, we do not have such data but this is obviously an interesting
future direction for researchers who study boredom and/or voting