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Boredom can encourage hostility towards 'outsiders'

People who are bored seek to find a sense of meaningfulness – and can ostracise perceived “outsiders” in order to gain a feeling of purpose, according to a new study.

Image: Sander van der Wel via Creative Commons

BORED PEOPLE FEEL stronger connections to social groups, attach more importance to ‘belonging’ and are more hostile towards outsiders, according to a study from the University of Limerick.

Psychologists Wijnand van Tilburgand and Eric Igou said that the problem of boredom went beyond a simple lack of stimulation – and that bored people can ultimately struggle to find meaning in their lives, reports Miller-McClune. The authors suggested that by placing more emphasis on one’s own social group, and ostracising outsiders, people began to feel more in control and strengthen their sense of identity.

In one experiment, 47 Irish students were made to take part in a highly repetitive task – with half of the participants forced to spend twice as long on the task. Those who spent longer performing the task reported feeling a sense of boredom and meaninglessness.

All of the participants were then given a fictional scenario to read, in which an Englishman beats up an Irishman and later admits to have been acting on “anti-Irish motives”.  When asked to play the role of the judge at the fictional trial, the participants who had been most bored in the previous task gave “substantially” harsher sentences to the accused.

Another study reversed the scenario, making the Irishman the agressor and the Englishman the victim of the attack. Participants who had spent the longest on the repetitive task “gave shorter jail sentences to Irish offenders compared to English offenders”.

The authors concluded that bored people seek meaningfulness “by negatively evaluating the actions of an outgroup member that are targeted against an ingroup member”.

The study’s finding may go some way to explaining the motivations behind the recent violent protests in the UK, the Irish Times reports. “Boredom may have played a role in the recent riots. Spontaneous gatherings create a strong social identity,” the authors said.

The University of Limerick study is to be published in the Personality and Psychology Bulletin >

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