Boredom studies boom in lockdown

Creation of a new international society dedicated to boredom studies suggests the subject is thriving, says founder

July 7, 2021
Yawning student illustrating boredom studies
Source: iStock

Last year’s lockdowns may have been a tough time for academia in general but they were a golden age for one emerging field of enquiry: boredom studies.

With socialising, sports and travel banned for many months, many scholars embraced their ennui and began analysing the nature of boredom and how it shapes society, science, education and higher education, according to Mariusz Finkielsztein, secretary of the newly formed International Society of Boredom Studies.

“There are about 250 researchers across the world working on boredom,” said Dr Finkielsztein, an assistant professor in sociology at Collegium Civitas, a private university in Warsaw.

“Boredom has been a powerful motivation throughout history, and an emotion that we need to understand, but it feels like an even more important topic after Covid,” he said, adding that there had been a glut of studies examining how citizens coped with boredom during lockdowns.

The increased interest was particularly welcomed by Dr Finkielsztein, who admitted that he occasionally felt somewhat alone in his passion. “I organised the first boredom studies conference as a PhD student in Warsaw back in 2015 because no one else was interested in the subject,” he explained.

This year’s boredom studies conference, which was held online, was the biggest so far. The event heard from scholars across the world on an eclectic range of boredom-related subjects – including how boredom could explain unusual behaviour in Antarctic penguins and why certain video games are addictive.

Other papers addressed why climate change is often perceived as boring, how boredom informs architecture and why a lack of boredom may damage the health of young people, as well as how boredom can improve the teaching of English as a foreign language.

“Boredom is a tricky emotion to consider – it can lead to creativity, or force people to change their lives if they are going wrong, but it can also lead to very dangerous and destructive behaviour, including alcoholism, drug-taking and aggression,” reflected Dr Finkielsztein on the much-discussed question of whether boredom was a force for good or bad.

The new society is hoping to broaden the debate on these issues, but as a recent literature review by academics at Leeds Beckett University observes, there is already a wealth of studies on how boredom affects university teaching, with the term featuring in the title of 175 higher education-related papers.

According to the article, published in Research Papers in Education, the “study of academic boredom as part of a greater emotional dynamic and integrated network of other causal factors associated with student engagement and achievement is only now beginning to attract the attention it deserves”.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Boredom research flourishes over lockdown

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