Psychological Time and Its Association with Boredom

Sensing how fast or slow time flows is familiar to us all. Yet, while every person can experience the sense of time, the “how” part remains unclear.  

In these types of moments, we feel temporal experiences. Two aspects characterize such occurrences: subjectiveness and a reference to physical time.

Dan Zakay (2014) authored a paper entitled Psychological time as information: the case of boredom, which elaborated on the possible consideration of psychological time as information. Like pain, psychological time provides information to our cognitive system so it can respond accordingly and therefore allow us to adapt or survive.

Our cognitive system monitors the time a certain behavior endures and compares it to expectation and internal and external norms. By doing so, it’s possible to find a certain regularity of behaviors. An example can be waiting (Zakay et al., 2009) for something that has been delayed. In this case, we perceive time as getting slower while, at the same time, we observe a feeling of tension to indicate that there is a problem of some nature. 

However, what happens when the need for specific information about the time experience is not satisfied? 

The system won’t perform optimally and this, consequently, will manifest as boredom and the impression that time is dragging. 

What is boredom?

Boredom is a psycho-physiological state characterized by interrelated and inseparable emotional, motivational, perceptual and cognitive aspects (O’Hanlon, 1981). In simpler terms, it’s an emotion that arises in a specific situation or as a typical characteristic of an individual. 

This emotion affects many aspects of our lives, including well-being, psychopathologies, job satisfaction and more. For this reason, it should be more important, so as to warrant further research.

So, what characterizes a situation of boredom?

We feel bored when we cannot channel our focus on specific tasks that require effort or information processing and our attention is mainly free. Routine, non-challenging tasks or a monotonous voice can elicit a feeling of boredom, for example.

Interestingly, boredom proneness (BP) or a predisposition to feel bored affects our perception of time. People who have high BP tend to experience boredom even in situations where the level of stimulation is normal.

Researchers Watt and Blanchard (1994) published a study that found that people who usually engaged in effort-filled, enjoyable activities were less likely to experience the negative effects of boredom. Similarly, individuals with a high BP feel time passing by more slowly than individuals with low BP when they perform the same boring task (Watt, 1991). There is, however, no difference in the chronometric estimation of time. 

The consequences of boredom

Boredom is a mental state in which information processing is low and atemporal.

This emotion and the accompanying lack of curiosity have shown to be related with eating disorders (Abramson and Stinson, 1977) and are the most common cause of drug use as well (Samuels and Samuels, 1974). 

Furthermore, boredom and boredom proneness have been associated with feelings of hopelessness, although no correlation has been shown with life satisfaction (Neugarten et al., 1961).

O’Hanlon (1981) and Annilee (2007) demonstrated that, at a pragmatic level, boredom reduces health and performance efficiency. 

From an evolutionary perspective, the ideal situation is to be on the opposite side of boredom. Referred to as flow, this mental state is characterized by high levels of creative concentration and enjoyment (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

In Virtualtimes, we are analyzing and studying the sense and structure of time by generating a flow state with the use of VR gaming. The experience of time can be distorted due to certain psychopathological conditions. Funded by the European Union, this project aims to provide individuals with opportunities to re-experience and normalize a variant and distorted sense of time. 

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