Written by: Josephine Chen '24
Edited by: Saradha Miriyala '23
In the midst of the pandemic with limited contact with friends and family, people are bound to be bored. Boredom pushes people to ignore risks and consequences and lose their self-control. However, this can be especially dangerous, as boredom causes people to ignore social distancing guidelines to the extent that recent studies have linked boredom to higher infection rates of COVID-19.
What is boredom? Eastwood, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, states, "In a nutshell, it boiled down to boredom being the unfulfilled desire for satisfying activity” . For students, all school work has been moved online. Similarly, many adult workers have also transitioned to remote meetings. With all social interactions occurring through a computer screen, there is little engagement and intellectual stimulation.
Throughout this pandemic, the United States has faced many novel challenges beyond the virus itself. From the Black Lives Matter movement to the recent protests against anti-Asian racism, our lives have not been completely unstimulated. In a research article titled, “Boring Thoughts and Bored Minds: The MAC Model of Boredom and Cognitive Engagement,” researchers Westgate and Wilson discuss how boredom can be caused by both understimulation and overstimulation .
Overstimulation occurs when “attentional demands are insufficient for what a task requires” . Although it might seem strange at first that overstimulation of the brain will lead to boredom, Westgate and Wilson use the example of a student taking a difficult class. If a course is too easy, it will be understimulating for the student. However, if the class is too challenging, the student will become frustrated and, as a result, bored . This constant switch between the unengaging and overwhelming events during the pandemic can ultimately lead to stress and boredom in many people.
Social distancing rules have prevented us from enjoying Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas parties, and simply hanging out with friends. Researchers Heintzelman and King uncover how simple, everyday routines that were constant in our lives in the past played a strong role in our sense of self, purpose, confidence, and safety [3, 4]. Without these habits during the pandemic, people quickly lost themselves in a panic and looked for other methods to find meaning.
A research team found a connection between susceptibility to boredom and rule breaking during the pandemic. In this study, rule breaking included less time spent socially isolated and participating in social gatherings . As age increases, a person’s susceptibility to boredom decreases. This was seen in the results as well: younger adults had less self-control and broke more COVID-19 guidelines . Females, who are usually less disposed to boredom, followed pandemic rules and guidelines more than men . In a particular study of adolescents and how they respond to boredom, teens with higher boredom proneness were victim to binge drinking and high risk behaviors .
This idea is even more prevalent when examining graphs mapping out COVID-19 death rates. Such rates plateaus and dip slightly only to increase quickly after a period of time . This is accredited to the behavioral changes during the pandemic, one of which being boredom.
With newer variants of the virus being discovered, boredom proneness will only increase. It is important to realize that such feelings have grave consequences on everyone’s health and remain vigilant during the pandemic. However, we can remain hopeful as more people are being vaccinated and newer vaccines are being produced.
 Never a dull moment [Internet]. https://www.apa.org. [cited 2021 Mar 27]. Available from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/07-08/dull-moment
 Westgate EC, Wilson TD. Boring thoughts and bored minds: The MAC model of boredom and cognitive engagement. Psychological Review. 2018 Oct;125(5):689–713.
 Heintzelman SJ, King LA. Routines and Meaning in Life. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2019 May 1;45(5):688–99.
 Avni‐Babad D. Routine and feelings of safety, confidence, and well-being. British Journal of Psychology. 2011;102(2):223–44.
 Boylan J, Seli P, Scholer AA, Danckert J. Boredom in the COVID-19 pandemic: Trait boredom proneness, the desire to act, and rule-breaking. Personality and Individual Differences. 2021 Mar 1;171:110387.
 Biolcati R, Mancini G, Trombini E. Proneness to Boredom and Risk Behaviors During Adolescents’ Free Time. Psychol Rep. 2018 Apr;121(2):303–23.
 In the social distancing era, boredom may pose a public health threat | Science News [Internet]. [cited 2021 Mar 27]. Available from: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/social-distancing-boredom-covid-19-public-health-pandemic
[Image Citation] Haladyn JJ. Depressed or bored? How COVID-boredom intensifies the fear of missing out [Internet]. The Conversation. [cited 2021 Mar 27]. Available from: http://theconversation.com/depressed-or-bored-how-covid-boredom-intensifies-the-fear-of-missing-out-153037