In a recent article in Miller-McCune Magazine, Tom Jacobs discusses new research that explains how feelings of boredom can both strengthen solidarity within your in-group and heighten hostility toward outsiders.
It’s all too easy to divide the world into people like us and outsiders. Newly published research points to a surprising factor that exacerbates this unfortunate tendency: Boredom.
Writing in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, University of Limerick psychologists Wijnand van Tilburg and Eric Igou report boredom increases the value we place on groups we feel a part of and decreases the value of those who feel alien to us. They describe five experiments that provide evidence backing up this idea.
Their basic thesis is that boredom is more than a simple lack of stimulation. Rather, they write, bored people experience their lives — or at least the situations they find themselves in at the moment — as fundamentally meaningless.
This uncomfortable feeling motivates people to search for a way to re-establish a sense of purpose — which can be a good thing. In a research released in May, van Tilburg and Igou found boredom can inspire people to engage in helpful behavior such as giving blood.
But while aiding others can provide a feeling of purpose, so can strengthening our identification with key belief systems or social groups. If your sense of meaning comes from being a Democrat, a vegetarian or a Yankees fan, you’ll likely hold onto those affiliations with greater intensity in times of threat — and be more critical of Republicans, meat-eaters or those who root for the Red Sox.
In their just-published paper, Van Tilburg and Igou argue boredom is a subtle form of threat capable of activating this “my group first” mindset.