Updated: Oct 10
Our brains maintain their efficiency and understanding through a constant strive to learn new things. One of the ways we do this is by getting bored.
This is one of the functions our brain does to maintain our Cognitive Equity. Our mind puts us in a state of un-comfortability when it wants us to change our situation. Whether it's pain, anxiety, awkwardness, or boredom, we are driven to alleviate it. When we become disinterested in something, we've either taken too much of it for our brain to handle or we don't deem it essential to our lives. But mainly,
We get tired
The best metaphor for the Cognitive Equity of boredom is fitness. We exhaust our brain. Imagine a cross country runner who runs 10 miles a day, everyday, going up against the average person who works out maybe 2-3 times a week. Both individuals can run, yet the cross country runner can last far longer in a race. But that's in perfect conditions . In real life there are many factors that could influence this race like weather, terrain, injury, etc. With boredom specialization, confusion, anxiety, and even simply being 'out of it' can influence how quickly we lose interest in something. Everyone has a different length until they get tired, but we all eventually do.
Boredom Affects Every Level of our Brain
But becoming bored doesn't just mean getting 'antsy' when sitting in a seminar for a couple of hours. Even at the smallest, subconscious level (without our control), our brain can get bored and force itself to find something new to learn about.
Try it for yourself. Stare at the center of the palm of one hand for about twenty seconds. This will cause one of two things to happen to your sight (and maybe even both). 1. You'll slowly notice your vision blurring out, causing you to have to refocus. 2. You'll notice a change in focus through the three types of crevices on your hand. There's the large protruding lines that come when you crinkle your hand. The smaller ones that flow in between the large. And finally the miniature 'finger' or hand prints that underlay all the others and covering your entire hand. This is because when your brain feels like its seen everything, it wants to find something new. Boredom makes us smarter.
Repetitive and monotonous situation's cause our brain to focus on new things like a scratch on a desk or new tree on the way to work. Our brains compulsively try to look at the world differently, similarly to the example of our hand. But this can also cause our brains to play tricks on us. To see what isn't actually there. One famous example is the 'game' Bloody Mary. If you don't know who or what that is you probably had a boring but non-scarring childhood. I'll explain. There is a common scary story that says if you look at a mirror in a dim room, turn the lights off, spin around, say "Bloody Mary" and turn them back on three times in a row you'll see the ghost of Mary who was buried alive by her parents long ago. Mary is our brain getting bored.
Knowledge affects how we perceive the world. A curious and gullible child who is told that Bloody Mary will appear paired with their brain becoming bored from seeing the exact same bathroom three times in a row causes their mind to perceive something that isn't actually there. A child's expectation of seeing her can cause a towel, shadow, or dark corner to become a living nightmare. This placebo effect of sorts is the reasoning for hoaxes like ghosts and even mermaids. Both boredom and expectation are powerful things.
Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, which cause memory loss and cognitive decay, can be prevented through simply keeping our brains active (and challenged). Boredom is how we can tell we need to change brain exercises. In a future article I will detail (and link here) how the brain is basically a muscle. If we go too long without playing a sport or riding a bike we'll forget how to do it.
Therefore one can infer what will happen if we stop stimulating and challenging our brain all together.
Often times elderly people stray from finding new things to learn and be challenged by, causing them to lose the muscles of the brain along with the memories that flow through them. While some forms of dementia are un-preventable, the best ways to combat it are through social engagement, puzzles/memory activities, and moderately challenging work-outs (Because we're tired!). This is something all of us need to take seriously for ourselves and family and friends. While it's easy to be active and learning while younger, children also have to make sure they keep their parent's mind and body active too!
Thanks for reading and please take your mental health seriously, it's the way we take in the whole world and if it goes bad the world does too. MANY cases of dementia are preventable if we just keep one another working out their brains. Sudoku, Scrabble, Where's Waldo. All are fun and easy ways to keep each other strong and healthy upstairs.
My next article on boredom will deal with desensitization and how it affects our sex drive. This is an article I've felt needs to be written for a while so please look out for it!