Boredom Is Linked To Polticial Extremism, Study Finds, But It Might Not Just Be About A Need For Some Hobbies
While there are probably a bunch of underlying causes that lead to political extremism, there's one potential factor you probably wouldn't expect: Boredom. According to a new study, boredom is linked political extremism, possibly because boredom makes us more likely to go looking for something dramatic and exciting to give meaning to our lives. And an extreme political ideology can certainly do that.
In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology , researchers from the UK conducted several experiments to test whether boredom had any correlation with people's political leanings. In one study, people were asked about their political beliefs before performing a task; half the participants were then randomly assigned to perform a boring task, while half were assigned a less boring task. Afterwards, participants were asked again about their political beliefs, and asked to rate how moderate their beliefs were. It turns out that those people who performed boring tasks were much less likely to rate themselves as moderate, which suggests that boredom might be a factor in whether or not someone is more open to a more extreme point of view.
To further back up this idea, the researchers then conducted two surveys, both of people living in Ireland. The first, which surveyed over 800 people, found that people who are easily bored tend to endorse more extreme political positions. The second, which surveyed over 300, found that frequent boredom was associated with searching for meaning in life, which in and of itself is also a factor in favoring extreme political views. In other words, boredom and extremism do appear to be connected — so maybe we just all need a few hobbies or something to keep us busy.
Of course, we can't say that boredom causes political extremis; the issue isn't quite that simple. The reason boredom might be a factor in political extremism, researchers explain, isn't so much because people are looking for something to do so much as it is about looking for meaning.
"Boredom makes people attempt to re-establish a sense of meaningfulness," the researchers write in the study. "Political ideologies, and in particular the adherence to left- versus right-wing beliefs, can serve as source of meaning."
This actually makes sense when you think about it: When you're bored, the world can seem flat, dull, and just generally, blandly awful. It fits that in order to counteract that feeling, we would feel a psychological need to find something interesting, something that made us feel purposeful and made the world feel alive. And extreme political positions could easily fit that bill.
“These studies show 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,” explained a university press release.
So what can we do about this? After all, political extremism is on the rise in the United States, so it seems like we should be taking steps to mitigate it. But it's hard to know how to use this information for good. After all, how do you try to ensure that more people, on a society-wide scale, are more engaged and feel more fulfilled and connected to the world?
Well, the good news is that while it seems boredom is a likely factor in driving people to more extreme views, it's not clear how strong a factor it might be. Although boredom suggest that someone is more likely to be a political extremist, it might not actually make someone that much more likely. Just because the link is there doesn't mean it's automatically a major push — as always, correlation is not causation.
So I guess we don't have to be too worried that all the bored people we see on public transit or stuck in traffic everyday are necessarily slipping towards extremism. At least there's that, right?