Come to shull, be bored and grow from it
Bored? Don't shrug it off
By Benedict Carey
Published: August 5, 2008
Even the most fabulous, high-flying lives hit pockets of dead air, periods when the sails go slack. Movie stars get marooned in D.M.V. lines. Prime ministers sit with frozen smiles through interminable state events. Living-large rappers endure empty August afternoons, pacing the mansion, checking the refrigerator, staring idly out the window, baseball droning on the radio.
Wondering: When does the mail come, exactly?
Yet boredom is more than a mere flagging of interest or a precursor to mischief. Some experts say that people tune things out for good reasons, and that over time boredom becomes a tool for sorting information — an increasingly sensitive spam filter. In various fields including neuroscience and education, research suggests that falling into a numbed trance allows the brain to recast the outside world in ways that can be productive and creative at least as often as they are disruptive.
In a recent paper in The Cambridge Journal of Education, Teresa Belton and Esther Priyadharshini of East Anglia University in England reviewed decades of research and theory on boredom, and concluded that it's time that boredom "be recognized as a legitimate human emotion that can be central to learning and creativity."
Using brain-imaging technology, neuroscientists have found that the brain is highly active when disengaged, consuming only about 5 percent less energy in its resting "default state" than when involved in routine tasks, according to Mark Mintun, a professor of radiology at Washington University in St. Louis.
"When the external and internal conditions are right, boredom offers a person the opportunity for a constructive response," Belton, co-author of the review in the Cambridge journal, wrote in an e-mail message.