High Risk Boredom

Boredom can cause a lack of attention that can result in dangerous errors in workplaces

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Everybody has heard someone say, “I’m so bored.” In many cases people need to find something to occupy their time, but in certain jobs—boredom can put themselves and others at risk.

A recent study looked at multiple studies on the ins and outs of attention and boredom. Results suggest the need for potential changes in workplaces where lack of attention can cause accidents.

"Make an effort to find mentally engaging tasks."

John Eastwood, PhD, from the Department of Psychology at York University in Canada, led a study in how boredom works in relation to the attention span.

Authors defined boredom as, “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.”

Boredom can be either internal, a mental state of having no satisfying thoughts or feelings, or external, no satisfactory environmental stimulation.

Researchers found that boredom is not simply a slight irritation, but can be a stressor that can become a hazard when continued attention is necessary for safety.

Overeating, binge eating, drug and alcohol abuse were also linked to states of boredom.

Study authors said, “Boredom is the experience of being disengaged and stuck in an endless dissatisfying present.”

For this study, researchers evaluated multiple “Boredom” focused studies to determine the dangers of long-term boredom compared to the simple inconvenience of random boredom.

That is to say that the boredom a person experiences waiting in a doctor’s office does not pose the same consequences as the boredom felt by truck drivers.

Authors refer to “catastrophic performance errors” that could occur due to the boredom of a commercial airline pilot, which they call “automated complacency”.

Dr. Eastwood and his team of researchers propose their findings provide the basis for further research on dangerous outcomes of boredom in order to effectively combat its existence in the workplace.

Authors said, “Ultimately, such efforts will aid in the discovery of new strategies to ease the problems of boredom sufferers and will address the potentially dangerous cognitive errors associated with boredom and other disorders of attention and emotion.”

This study was published in September in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

No funding information was provided and no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 9, 2012
Last Updated:
October 13, 2012