Why Boredom is Interesting
We may not enjoy it, but boredom gives us important feedback about our lives. It tells us whether we want to and are able to focus on what we're doing. According to the Meaning and Attentional Components (MAC) model of boredom, we feel bored when we can't successfully engage our attention in meaningful activities. Boredom is thus the result of (a) an attentional component, or mismatches between cognitive demands and available mental resources and (b) a meaning component, or mismatches between activities and valued goals (or the absence of valued goals altogether).
A paper reporting the MAC model of boredom & cognitive engagement was recently accepted at Psychological Review.
"Just thinking" isn't fun
When we ask people to entertain themselves with their thoughts in an empty room, with no distractions, many people don’t enjoy it very much. Most people report enjoying external activities much more, and 67% of men - and 25% of women - will even choose to give themselves an electric shock rather than just think. To enjoy intentionally thinking for pleasure, people may need both the ability to think and the desire to to do it.
Read the original article in Science with Timothy Wilson, or coverage in The Atlantic or the New York Times. Or listen in at Science Friday.
Procrastination can be productive
When people are bored, they often choose to do something else. Voila - procrastination! But is procrastinating always bad? Many students report productive procrastination, such as doing trivial homework instead of studying for an urgent upcoming test. We've found that their grades are just as good as non-procrastinators', and they have fewer alcohol problems than students who procrastinate in traditional ways.
Read the original paper about how procrastination can be a plus.
Thinking for pleasure is hard
Why don't people enjoy thinking? One reason may be that it's cognitively demanding. In an experience sampling study, we found that unintended reverie was less frequent but more positive and enjoyable than intentional reverie. Could this be because generating thoughts is hard? To find out, we conducted a series of lab studies, where we asked people to think for pleasure and reminded them of the thought topics they had chosen earlier. These reminders made it less difficult to concentrate and reduced mind-wandering. As a result, people enjoyed thinking more.
Read the original article about how to make thinking easier and more enjoyable, or coverage in UC Berkeley's Greater Good Magazine.
Implicit cultural attitudes change over time
I study cultural change over the past decade in implicit attitudes using big data from Project Implicit. Implicit attitudes towards lesbian and gay people became more positive from 2006-2013. We are in the process of designing and adding a new transgender IAT to Project Implicit in hopes of tracking cultural attitude change over the next decade.
Read the original article on implicit sexuality attitudes with Brian Nosek or coverage in Pacific Standard or the New York Times.