Boredom might be a more important element of the pandemic than previously thought. This is the conclusion of one study published in Personality and Individual Differences, in which researchers from the University of Waterloo and Duke University compared levels of “boredom proneness” (a relatively stable personality trait) in individuals with their adherence to quarantine and social distancing measures.
The study contributes to a growing body of evidence on boredom, linking heightened susceptibility to boredom with poor attentional control, have higher levels of depression and anxiety, are more likely to have problems with alcohol, drugs and gambling, and report higher levels of sensation-seeking and impulsivity.
In the study, 993 individuals recruited on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform completed a large survey which included the Shortened Boredom Proneness Scale and Brief Self-Control Scale, as well as a questionnaire assessing compliance with social-distancing and quarantine, and COVID-19 experiences (they or a friend, roommate or family member contracted the virus).
The results of the study confirm the authors’ hypothesis. Individuals who struggle with boredom are more likely to break the rules when it comes to COVID-19, and this despite the fact that the same individuals were also more likely to become ill with COVID-19.
For the authors, this elicits the comment that “the urge to act … seems so powerful that people are even willing to act against their own self-interest and interest of others.” However, it’s worth noting that this would only be true of individuals who recognized their increased exposure to risk. Many individuals may believe that they would have gotten COVID-19 regardless of whether they respected the measures or not.
There are a few limitations, including the cross-sectional nature, precluding drawing any conclusions of causality, and also the use of self-reports, which may not be accurate, especially when it comes to admitting breaking the rules with COVID-19.
Nonetheless, the study is valuable in that it demonstrates just how much more difficult it can be for certain individuals to live with quarantine restrictions. As the authors note, “public initiatives to reduce boredom during lockdown should both improve rule-adherence and reduce demands on self-control,” which is indeed a valuable takeaway, and could improve compliance and ultimately slow the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
The article, “Boredom in the COVID-19 pandemic: Trait boredom proneness, the desire to act, and rule-breaking”, was written by James Boylana, Paul Selib, Abigail A. Scholera, and James Danckerta.