Did boredom fuel Donald Trump’s presidential campaign?

Published 2:26 PM EDT, Thu July 14, 2016

Story highlights

A study used three ways to test people's level of boredom and their politics

Situational boredom, people who felt bored easily and people who wanted more meaning in life tended to have extreme political views

(CNN) —  

Donald Trump, a reality show billionaire, will be the Republican candidate for president. Bernie Sanders, a little known socialist Senator, nearly toppled an American political dynasty.

Both expressed views that some have found extreme. Sanders’ desire to break up the banks, or Trump’s suggestion to ban Muslim immigration, for instance.

The European Journal of Social Psychology has offered a new intriguing idea that may explain some of the allure of extreme political thinking.

Boredom.

Boredom may sound like a pejorative term, but in social psychology it’s an actual phenomenon that should be taken seriously. It can be debilitating and has been linked to serious problems such as depression, aggression, anxiety, loneliness and hostility, research shows. It also can also motivate people to change their circumstances and end their ennui.

The recent study suggests people vote for extreme candidates or take extreme political positions, because they are totally bored.

High boredom, polarizing politics

The authors figured this out using three different experiments.

The first study took 97 students who were asked their political orientation and given a boring task of transcribing sentences about concrete.

The first “high boredom” group transcribed 10 references. The second “low boredom” group copied two. The students were then asked to rate their level of boredom. They were also asked to rate their political orientation (left-winged, right-winged etc.). People who had the “high boredom” task expressed stronger, polarized political orientations – particularly those students who leaned left – after the task, as compared to those doing the “low boredom” work. Conservatives did not show a significant difference in opinion pre- or post-test, but the authors suggest that may be because their sample of right-wing students was too small.

The authors argue that results demonstrated that experimentally induced boredom may trigger people to gravitate toward more extreme political beliefs.

The second study involved 859 people who lived in Ireland. Researchers sent them questionnaires that tested them on a boredom-proneness scale. It asked them to rate on a scale how bored they’d be looking at someone’s home movies, for instance. It also tested if they were bored, because they were unable to come up with something interesting to do. They also asked questions about the person’s political orientation.

The results showed that people who are easily bored tended to be on the more extreme end of the political spectrum, for both people on the right and the left, compared to those who are more content and entertained by the world around them.

The final study tested 300 people in Ireland who also completed a boredom proneness scale and a questionnaire about how much meaning they found in life. They also assessed the person’s political orientation.

Results showed that people who held extreme political views were bored and seeking more meaning from life.

The function of boredom

Over the years the psychological research on boredom has been limited. Boredom was typically studied by philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard who describes boredom as a negative experience and evidence that life has no real meaning.