For example, if a person was unsatisfied with their current romantic relationship, but is not attempting to improve their relationship or seek alternatives because they view the situation as hopeless, it would be apathy
The function that we propose for boredom is somewhat similar to that proposed for other negative emotions that encourage goal pursuit, most notably anger and frustration . Anger and frustration have been proposed to also motivate action to attain goals, particularly when one is relatively close to goal attainment. However, the environmental conditions that result in boredom and anger are actually quite different, and the responses to those conditions are also different. Anger results when an identified object or person is blocking a specific recognized goal, but a chance to attain the goal remains [49,50]. For example, a person might be angry if while rushing to a meeting they are slowed by unexpected traffic. In this example the goal would be making it to the meeting on time, and the object blocking the goal would be the traffic. Boredom, in contrast, does not require a clearly identifiable goal (beyond change from the current state), and there is not a recognizable object blocking that goal. For instance, while my sources waiting in slow moving traffic for an extended amount of time, a person might look attentively at a gruesome accident as they eventually pass. In this example, the goal would be a change from the current experience (i.e., waiting in slow moving traffic) and an available alternative experience would be the accident. To take the example further, a person might initially be angry that they are slowed in traffic, as their goal is to reach their destination, and it is being blocked by the traffic. With time, however, the intensity of the anger experience would begin to fade, and the person would begin to become bored. Boredom would then motivate pursuing an alternative goal, such as observing the damage of a car accident. Thus, we propose that boredom arises as emotional intensity fades and one approaches a “neutral” state.
A person bored with their current romantic relationship would likely seek to change the situation, either by pursuing new goals in their current relationship or seeking an alternative partner
It is also important to distinguish two affective states involving dissatisfaction with the current situation: boredom and apathy. Apathy results from recognition of complete failure or helplessness and is characterized by a lack of motivation and a failure to seek alternatives. In contrast, we propose that boredom results from recognition that the current goal is no longer stimulating (i.e., is associated with less intense emotion) and is characterized by motivation to change the current situation and seek alternatives . Increased motivation would allow for the pursuit of alternate goals. The difference in resulting motivation is a crucial distinction between boredom and apathy, as both states are sometimes colloquially referred to as “boredom”, but they have very different effects. Indeed, recent research has demonstrated that apathy and boredom are discrete constructs .
Based on our proposal regarding the environmental conditions that give rise to boredom, we next discuss the potential specific and unique impacts of boredom on cognition, behavior, experience, and physiology. These impacts are outlined in Table 1 . Akin to other discrete emotions, the impacts of boredom should help resolve the conditions that elicit boredom . Specifically, boredom should encourage the pursuit of goals and experiences that differ from those currently experienced. In many cases, this would come in the form of novel stimulation which would introduce opportunities for cognitive and social growth, even if the alternative situations might elicit negative emotion. That is, by creating a desire for change, boredom encourages people to alter their current situation, which permits the attainment of opportunities that might have been missed.