Originally created 07/09/02

Boredom decreases with age, study says

Do you feel bored with your life? Would like to add some excitement to it?

You might expect to find that older people experience more boredom than do younger people, especially young adults. However, the available evidence suggests that this is not the case.

Age differences in experiencing boredom were investigated by researchers at the National Institute on Aging with a large sample of individuals ranging in age over the adult life span. The participants responded to such statements as "I am seldom bored" and "I am always glad to find some excuse to take me away from work." Their responses indicated the extent to which each statement applied to them.

Surprisingly, it was found that boredom tends to decrease with age, being greatest early in adulthood, after which it declines through middle age. Most surprisingly, there was no tendency for boredom to increase after middle age; for both middle-aged and older adults it was found to be well below the level experienced by young adults.

Closely associated with boredom is the need to find relief by seeking external or internal stimulation of some kind. The need for external stimulation was tested in the boredom study by having the participants respond to such statements as "At the amusement park, I like to go on the most scary rides" and "I find sitting at home a nice way to pass the time."

The results were much like those found for boredom. The need for external stimulation was greatest for young adults and about the same for middle-aged and older adults. As the feeling of boredom decreases after young adulthood, the need for experiencing exciting events as an antidote for boredom decreases as well.

The same outcome has been found by other researchers for the frequency of daydreaming. They found that older adults actually daydream less than do young adults.

A daydream is any thought that intrudes while we are doing something else. Daydreaming is a form of internal or mental stimulation that is commonly used as an antidote for boredom.

To measure the frequency of daydreaming the researchers gave adults of varying ages a very boring laboratory task to perform for an extended period of time. The participants were trained to report each time they had an intruding thought or "mind wandering." In separate studies, older adults were found to report either fewer instances of daydreaming than younger adults or no greater number of such instances than younger adults.

The content of daydreams is of further interest. Other than very young adults the most frequent daydreams involve problem solving of some kind. That is, the content is concerned with some problem currently facing the individual (such as, what to serve for tomorrow night's dinner party). For the youngest adults, the most frequent daydreams are, not surprisingly, sexually oriented ones (but problem-solving daydreams rank second for them).

Daydreams seem to play an important role in our everyday lives by relieving boredom and by helping us to cope with our problems. It is as if our subconscious mind is struggling with a problem even as our conscious mind is occupied with other things, perhaps leading to a solution to that problem (e.g., "Hey, let's have stroganoff "for the guests at dinner).

Even the daydreams of the most famous daydreamer of all time, Walter Mitty in James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, were a means of coping with the problem of his wife's nagging.

Dr. Donald H. Kausler, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is author of The Graying of America: An Encyclopedia of Aging, Health, Mind, and Behavior. His e-mail address is dkausler2@aol.com.


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