Is There a Perfectly Boring Task?

Boredom research is a fairly popular area of study in psychology recently. It’s not to be confused with boring research because it can give us some interesting insights into how people work, which is one reason I’ve written about it on here before.

An important question for boredom researchers is how do you actually make people bored? Inducing boredom in people is sometimes the first step to actually studying boredom.

This seems easy enough because you don’t have to really do anything to become bored – it’s not an emotion that requires a whole lot of effort to attain! But the perfect boredom-inducing task for use in a laboratory setting is a little more elusive.

For one thing, that task has to elicit boredom specifically, and not other emotions. Psychologists have found that boredom seems to be a distinct emotion with its own particular characteristics, including low arousal, low challenge and low meaningfulness.

Moreover, the perfectly boring task has to reliably make everyone (or at least most people) bored. And it has to make people not just a little bored but intensely bored – which is something of a paradox in itself.

In 2014, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University conducted an experiment looking for this optimally boring task by comparing six candidate tasks to see which made people the most bored. The tasks they tested included a simple memory game, a task that involved matching signatures, a simulated air traffic control task, a task that involved repeatedly turning pegs, and tasks that involved listening to dull audio and watching a dull video.

They then scored both how intensely bored and how discretely bored each task made participants – that is, how severely bored each task made people and how much each task elicited boredom specifically more than other emotions.

When the results came in, the peg turning task turned out to be the run-away winner, coming in first in both intensity and discreteness.

For researchers, that means that, at least of the six tasks tested, peg turning may be the most effective boredom induction. For the rest of us, it means that if anyone ever asks you to participate in a peg turning task, you might want to just sit that one out unless you really don’t have anything better to do.

What’s the most perfectly boring task you can think of? Post below!

Image: Flickr/teeejayy under CC BY-SA 2.0