Surprising Studies Show How Boredom Can Make You A Better Worker

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Two recent studies suggest boredom could lead to creativity. Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

A silver lining for bored office workers everywhere: trudging through your most tedious tasks could ultimately make you more creative.

In a blog post for the Harvard Business Review, Oral Roberts University professor David Burkus highlights two recent studies that suggest that being bored can improve people’s abilities to solve problems and make connections between different ideas.

In one, published this past May by the Creativity Research Journal, two professors from the University of Central Lancashire had 80 participants come up with as many uses as possible for a pair of plastic cups, an exercise designed to test their creativity.

What they found was that a group of subjects who had been forced to complete the boring task of copying numbers out of a phone book prior to taking the test outperformed those who had not.

This suggests that people in a state of boredom are more able to come up with a variety of possible outcomes for a single problem, a kind of creativity known as divergent thinking.

In a later round of the study, the professors asked a third group of subjects to simply read the phone book before doing a creative task, and that group outperformed both the group that had to write numbers down and the one that was not required to perform a prior exercise.

In the second study, published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, two Penn State professors showed more than 100 college students a series of video clips meant to make them feel bored, elated, distressed, or relaxed.

Then, students were asked to do a test where they were repeatedly given a series of three related words (like “sore,” “shoulder,” and “sweat”) and asked to come up with a fourth related word (“cold”). This test was meant to measure associative thinking, which allows people to make connections between different ideas.

The study found that the people who were elated or bored were better at this kind of thinking than those who were distressed or relaxed.

In a later round of the study, the professors found that bored and elated students had greater activation in the right hemisphere of their brains, which is associated with creative thinking.

As a result, the professors suggested that it’s possible that being bored leads people to seek meaning and exploration.

“These data suggest that the outcomes of feeling bored may be complex,” the authors write. “For boredom may spark approaching rewarding activities in a broad and explorative manner, rather than merely avoiding tedious activities.”

So next time you’re doing your least favourite part of your job, just try to keep in mind that you might be gearing up for a creative outburst.