Boredom is an unpleasant state of mind. It’s characterised by a lack of stimulation that leaves us craving for some sort of relief. Yet, despite being so common, there’s no universal definition for it. All researchers can agree on is that it’s a negative emotion that calls up feelings of lethargy, stress, impatience and frustration.
Dr. Sandi Mann, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, specialises in boredom. She defines it as “a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied.” Let’s go with that definition.
A 2017 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University showed that at least 63 percent of its participants reported feeling bored at some point in the past ten days. This was particularly prevalent among men, young people, the unmarried and those on low incomes.
Do Animals Get Bored?
Glad you asked. Let me introduce you to Jackie – my three-year-old Labrador-hellhound cross. Once Jackie finishes her 18-hour nap and is done fighting the neighbouring dogs, she spends a large chunk of the time just staring at me. She’ll sit there gawking for half an hour – not moving at all while somehow always trying to catch my eye.
I like to convince myself she’s flirting, but I know deep down that she’s downright bored. Trapped inside the house for 23 hours a day, she has nothing to be vigilant about, unlike her wolf, dingo and coyote cousins in the wild. All there’s left is for her to rubberneck me and fantasise about the tummy tickles coming her way. Of course, it’s possible too that she’s simply sitting there calculating how many pounds of meat there are on me – in case we run out of dry food.
Brazilian research suggests that animals living in captivity suffer from boredom just like we do. They’ll jump at any chance for stimulation and they get right up in each other’s faces. They’ll follow one another like velcro, or snack on one your favourite socks – the animal equivalent of playing ding-dong ditch.
With so many other creatures suffering from boredom, it’s clear there must be some survival advantage to it. Academics are guessing that it acts as a motivator or “a kick up the backside,” as animal psychologist Francoise Wemelsfelder at Scotland’s Rural College describes it. “All animals want and need to engage with the environment,” she says.