Boredom – now that’s interesting.

boredDid you know that there are at least 5 types of boredom? To be honest, neither did I until quite recently.

Well, there are (they are outlined in the table below), but it’s the fifth type (apathetic boredom), which seems to be the most interesting and the one that could have implications for teaching and learning. In a paper published last year (in the journal Motivation and Emotion) Thomas Goetz from the University of Konstanz, Germany and colleagues from Germany, Canada and the US, reported on series of studies utilising experience sampling techniques in order to establish the reasons why people (in this case university and high school students) get bored and, more importantly, if previous research that identified four types of boredom stand up to further experimental scrutiny (Goetz et al., 2013)


Experience sampling, as a research methodology, has quite a long history but has really come into its own since the advent of the mobile communications device (that’s mobile phones to you and me). The method is mainly associated with Reed Larson and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and originally involved participants providing self-reports by means of a pager or alarm watch. This allowed researchers to gather specific information at any moment in time. Times have moved on and now bespoke software and PDA’s or phones have replaced pagers and alarms even though the principle behind the method remains the same. The experience sampling method (or ESM) allows the researcher to obtain a number of snapshots pertaining to emotions, obstacles or other factors that impact on our day-to-day lives.

Goetz and his team supplied each participant with Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) loaded with specially designed software. The PDA’s would then emit a number of audible sounds throughout the day and participants would complete a questionnaire that appeared on the screen (the procedure was slightly different between the two group – university or high school students). The questionnaires required likert-responses to identify levels of boredom, wellbeing, satisfaction, enjoyment, anger and anxiety. If they identified themselves as being bored, they were asked a second set of questions on arousal and valence (the extent to which they were attracted or repelled by the task).

Results suggested the existence of a fifth type of boredom – apathetic boredom, which appeared widely prevalent amongst both groups of students. The interesting point here is that the team identified apathetic boredom as possessing characterises related to learned-helplessness (a condition associated with depression), making apathetic boredom a very unpleasant experience indeed. The implications for teaching and learning are as yet unknown but might suggest there is a learning process involved in certain types of boredom. On the other hand, there might also be some speculation involved in the findings and the ‘types of boredom’ might simply be the result of the statistical analysis rather than anything ‘real’ (so-called ‘reification’). Nevertheless, the mere suggestion should ignite further research, certainly in terms of pupil wellbeing and factors such as day-to-day resilience (academic buoyancy).

On the methodological side, the use of ESM in educational settings could provide a very rich source of data for understanding the complex daily lives of learners as well as an antidote to the current, often misplaced, attraction of Randomised Controlled Trials (RCT’s).

Goetz, T., Frenzel, A. C., Hall, N. C., Nett, U. E., Pekrun, R., & Lipnevich, A. a. (2013). Types of boredom: An experience sampling approach. Motivation and Emotion. doi:10.1007/s11031-013-9385-y


2 thoughts on “Boredom – now that’s interesting.

  1. Pingback: 5 Ways emotions impact learning. | Psych(ed)

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