Mental Health, Occupational Therapy

Is Boredom More Than an Emotional Response to a Lack of Occupation?

We will be discussing Boredom using the #occhat hashtag on Tuesday 7th May, 8pm BST.

Click here to view the transcript of the #occhat exploring boredom.

What is your experience of boredom? What do you think causes it?

How can boredom be overcome?

Is boredom an issue that occupational therapists should address?

Noia/ Boredom

Flickr: Gargio78

bore·dom [bawr-duh m, bohr-]  noun

the state of being bored; tedium; ennui.

Synonyms: dullness, doldrums, weariness.
Antonyms: excitement, diversion, amusement.

Why Boredom?

There is a substantial body of literature which indicates that boredom is associated with a range of health problems and antisocial behaviour including obesity (Abramson & Stinson, 1977), anger, aggression, sensation seeking and impulsiveness (Dahlen, Martin, Ragan,&Kuhlman, 2004, 2005), crime (Ferrel, 2004), absenteeism (Kass, Vodanovich, & Callender, 2001), poor performance (Kass, Vodanovich, Stanny, & Taylor, 2001), sleep disorder and attention deficit (Kass, Wallace, & Vodanovich, 2003). – Martin, Sadlo and Stew (2012, pg. 54)

Boredom is a significant issue in my area of work – adult acute inpatient mental health – and has been linked to serious incidents (see, for example, the 2005 NICE guidelines on violence). For those interested in this area, a powerpoint on the topic of boredom and the role of occupational therapy in acute inpatient mental health is available online. Pd2ot shares an interesting perspective on occupational deprivation as a result of hospitalisation in her blog post.

A South African study by Wegner (2011) links under-stimulation and associated feelings such as restlessness to engagement in risky behaviours/activities in the sample of South African adolescents. It also explores how environments can contribute to occupational deprivation and boredom (for example, when they offer limited resources for engagement). The impoverished community in the study not only had limited resources for engagement in leisure, sport, education and employment, but also offered numerous opportunities for anti-social or risky activities such as substance use and vandalism.

Rather than being in response to a lack of “things to do”, my own experience of boredom is usually in relation to feeling under-stimulated or not challenged enough in what I am doing. For me, this is usually accompanied by feelings of frustration/irritability and withdrawal from the task.

Causes of Boredom

Martin, Sadlo and Stew (2012) identify the following theories on boredom:

  • Boredom as a consequence of occupational deprivation (Whiteford, 2006)
  • Boredom as a result of dull, repetitive situations (Berlyne, 1960); characteristic of the task vs lack of occupation; as a mismatch between a perception of high ability in relation to the challenges of the task (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 1992). I was particularly interested in the suggestion of “occupational deprivation as a state of mind” (p. 57)
  • Boredom-proneness as a personality trait (Harris, 2000; Polly et al 1993)
  • Boredom originating from an absence of meaning in Western society (Barbalet, 1999; Svendsen, 2005).
  • Boredom as a result of negative attitudes and dissatisfaction with life (Barbalet, 1999; Svendsen, 2005)
  • Boredom as “a state of inattention to what one is doing, combined with dissatisfaction” (Martin, Salo and Stew, 2012, pg. 58)

Mindfulness and Boredom?

Martin, Sadlo and Stew (2012, pg. 58) highlight that their definition of boredom (see above) is “opposite to a definition of mindfulness, which is an ability to focus attention on the present moment, combined with interest, open acceptance, and compassion towards oneself and others (Kabat- Zinn, 1990, 2005)”. They suggest that mindfulness can enhance satisfaction, thereby reducing boredom. I haven’t considered this idea before, but I’m planning on experimenting with this next time I’m bored – can’t hurt!


Martin, M., Sadlo, G. and Stew, G. (2012) ‘Rethinking Occupational Deprivation and Boredom‘, Journal of Occupational Science, 19(1), pp. 54-61. DOI: 10.1080/14427591.2011.640210

National Institute for Clinical Excellence (2005) Clinical Guideline 25: Violence – The Short-Term Management of Disturbed/Violent Behaviour in Psychiatric In-Patient Settings and Emergency Departments [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 4 May 2013)

Wegner, L. (2011) ‘Through the Lens of a Peer: Understanding Leisure Boredom and Risk Behaviour in Adolescence‘, South African Journal of Occupational Therapy, 41(1), pp. 18-24

8 thoughts on “Is Boredom More Than an Emotional Response to a Lack of Occupation?”

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