Boredom can lead to more extreme political views, surprising study finds

Boredom may be a significant factor when it comes to our political views, a new study by researchers from King’s College London and the University of Limerick reports.

A souvenir seller appears bored as she waits for customers. Photo by Adam Jones.

Few people are truly interested in politics, but we all have our own political views – even though we might not be aware of them. They’re influenced by what we think about other people, about society and everything around us. Most of the world today lives in a system called democracy, and in democracy, we generally tend to think of political ideologies in a left-right spectrum. To simplify things, the left part can be associated with socialism, progressivism and believing in civil rights. Meanwhile, the right part includes capitalists, conservatives and traditionalists.

Of course, if we’re talking about a political spectrum, then saying you’re “left” or “right” doesn’t make much sense. You can have central or mixed opinions, you can lean slightly or moderately to the left or right, or you can have far left/right views. This is where things really get dangerous. Towards the far left of the spectrum you can find communism, and conversely on the other side you’d find fascism. Needless to say, these are two really undesirable outcomes, no matter what side you lean towards.

For this study, researchers asked 97 people from a university campus to classify their political orientation. After  that assigned a boring task of classifying and transcribing 10 references about concrete mixing for one group, while another group transcribed only two of these references. They were then asked to classify their political options again, this time on a seven-point scale. They found that liberals in the low boredom group were more moderate in their political orientation, compared to liberals in the high boredom group. A similar trend was found for conservatives, though for a smaller sample size.

The fact that boredom can make people have more extreme views is extremely worrying, and quite surprising. Dr Wijnand van Tilburg from King’s College London, who led the study, said:

‘Boredom puts people on edge – it makes them seek engagements that are challenging, exciting, and that offer a sense of purpose. Political ideologies can aid this existential quest.’ He added: ‘Boredom motivates people to alter their situation and fosters the engagement in activities that seem more meaningful than those currently at hand.’ The authors suggest that adopting a more extreme political ideology is one way that people re-inject meaningfulness into a boring situation.

This would mean that a completely irrelevant and external factor influences something deeply enrooted in us, such as our political beliefs. Dr Eric Igou from the University of Limerick, added:

‘These studies indicate that political views are, in part, based on boredom and the need to counteract these negative, existential experiences with ideologies that seem to provide meaning in life. The implications of these findings are obvious. Possibly politically radicalised individuals and groups are, at least to some degree, driven by boredom experiences in their everyday lives as an attempt to make life seem more meaningful.’

At the moment, we don’t know exactly how much boredom affects our political views, that’s a subject for further research.

‘To gain more insight into the magnitude of boredom’s role one could test, say, how voters behave in an election and see how that correlates with individual differences in boredom. At present, we do not have such data but this is clearly an interesting future direction for researchers who study boredom and voting behaviour.’

The research was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

One thought on “Boredom can lead to more extreme political views, surprising study finds

  1. John Smith

    Please, please stick to the natural sciences!!! While these are undergoing revolutionary advances, the very opposite is true of the social sciences, whose dreadful state proves Marx's dictum that 'the ruling ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class'. This absurd article is a case in point. Why is it 'needless to say' that communism is an undesirable outcome? Why should we put up with the obscene concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny minority? Why is it desirable to continue to deny that 'climate change' is a euphemism for the capitalist destruction of nature?

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