Scientists know plenty about boredom, too, though more as a result of poring through thickets of meaningless data than from studying the mental state itself. Much of the research on the topic has focused on the bad company it tends to keep, from depression and overeating to smoking and drug use.
Yet boredom is more than a mere flagging of interest or a precursor to mischief. Some experts say that people tune things out for good reasons, and that over time boredom becomes a tool for sorting information — an increasingly sensitive spam filter. In various fields including neuroscience and education, research suggests that falling into a numbed trance allows the brain to recast the outside world in ways that can be productive and creative at least as often as they are disruptive.
In a recent paper in The Cambridge Journal of Education, Teresa Belton and Esther Priyadharshini of East Anglia University in England reviewed decades of research and theory on boredom, and concluded that it’s time that boredom “be recognized as a legitimate human emotion that can be central to learning and creativity.”
Interesting. Boredom as an emotion. Well, call me very emotional during most of my med school lectures then.