Bored people more hostile to outsiders


WERE RECENT rioters just bored and looking to belong? A study from the University of Limerick shows that when people are bored they feel stronger connections with their social groups and more hostility towards groups in which they do not belong.

The study shows that boredom can trigger negative attitudes and aggressive behaviour in those suffering from it, lead researcher Dr Eric Igou said yesterday.

To test this idea PhD researcher Wijnand van Tilburg and Dr Igou, the head of University of Limerick’s psychology department, asked Irish volunteers to complete a series of tasks designed to bring about either high or low levels of boredom.

The researchers then tested the volunteers’ feelings about being Irish. Individuals who had high levels of boredom showed more affection for all things Irish than their less bored counterparts.

Be it the spelling of a name (Eoin versus Owen) or the symbolic shamrock, boredom increased the associations individuals felt towards being Irish.

However, more disturbingly, the highly bored group also felt significantly more animosity towards people who were not Irish, and were outside of their own social group.

“We consistently showed that boredom rendered people more positive towards their ingroups and more negative towards outgroups,” the authors write this week online ahead of print in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

When given a hypothetical scenario where an Irishman was assaulted by an Englishman, the bored group gave a longer jail sentence to the offender than the less bored group.

When the situation was reversed and the Englishman was under attack, the bored group gave the Irish offender a shorter jail sentence than the less bored group.

The authors suggest that boredom breeds feelings of meaninglessness, and fitting into a social group is one way to regain meaning through achieving a sense of identity.

“Belonging to social groups boosts feelings of socially connectedness, increases a sense of control, can have self-esteem benefits, and makes people feel part of something that transcends the mortal individual – four key sources of having a general sense of meaning in life,” the authors write.

Being bored can increase hostility towards people seen as outsiders, particularly if they threaten your social group.

The authors write: “These results are consistent with our hypothesis that bored people seek meaningfulness by negatively evaluating the actions of an outgroup member that are targeted against an ingroup member.”

Does this explain why the recent riots in the UK were uncontrolled, with rioters feeling aggression towards anyone not part of their group?

“Boredom may have played a role in the recent riots. Spontaneous gatherings create a strong social identity,” he said.