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article imageBoredom Could be Key to Developing a Creative Mind

By Nikki Weingartner     Aug 6, 2008 in Health
Forget filling up every available moment on the schedule. A recent review of past research and theories on boredom has concluded that a lack of activity may be exactly what the brain needs to filter out certain input to allow for creativity.
Don't ignore what the professor has to say just yet because you are bored with the subject matter. However, a recent article released in the New York Times put a potentially positive spin on what tends to be seen as a big bad word: Boredom.
Its what we do when we feel we have nothing to do. Daydream during a lecture or create tiny intricate doodle art on the top of an old phone bill while listening to a rambling mother-in-law go on about how her son would eat her superior tuna casserole. But is it really a bad thing to become bored? Not according to Teresa Belton and Esther Priyadharshini of East Anglia University in England.
A recent paper published in The Cambridge Journal of Education provides some balance to the age-old theory that being bored is a bad thing, often associated with getting into mischief. The two did the own research, reviewing decades of already accomplished research and theories on the topic and came up with a reasonable conclusion. Belton and Priyadharshini are quoted in the NYT article as saying:
...that it’s time that boredom “be recognized as a legitimate human emotion that can be central to learning and creativity.”
Why the change of heart on being bored? It seems that past research primarily focused on a scoring system that related a high score on a questionnaire to impulsive or depressed behaviours. However, the focus was never on differentiating between whether an individual already exhibits the behaviours themselves or has a tendency to be bored.
For example, the article listed the statement "Time always seems to be passing to slowly". Taken in context of the entire questionaire, one who would score high on this particular statement may be seen as having problematic behaviours such as depression or impulsivity, somehow correlating boredom to the negative problems. However, The behaviours themselves might be the problem, not the boredom. Confused?
It may not be boredom causing the problems.
Brain research has shown that a disengaged, or bored brain, uses only 5 percent less energy than a resting brain, which may explain the slowing of time associated with boredom that calls for immediate gratification: doodling, texting, reading, television, daydreaming, etc. For some, that gratification may be negative fulfillment depending upon the individual. However, as Belton also explained in the NYT article:
“When the external and internal conditions are right, boredom offers a person the opportunity for a constructive response”
This gives a more balanced perspective to what many see as a bad thing. Boredom may just be what your brain needs to sort through a problem or provide some kind of self-entertainment. It may even have the ability to activate a more inventive aspect of the brain, as shown in the word association experiments of the '70s.
If nothing more, the review gives boredom a fresh new look. So the next time you sit twisting those locks of hair, just remember it isn't necessarily a lack of something to do, but an opportunity to do something. Try that one on a bored teenager!
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