Boredom has, paradoxically, become quite interesting to academics lately. The International Interdisciplinary Boredom Conference gathered humanities scholars in Warsaw for the fifth time in April. In early May, its less scholarly forerunner, London’s Boring Conference, celebrated seven years of delighting in tedium. At this event, people flock to talks about toast, double yellow lines, sneezing, and vending-machine sounds, among other snooze-inducing topics.
What, exactly, is everybody studying? One widely accepted psychological definition of boredom is “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.”  But how can you quantify a person’s boredom level and compare it with someone else’s? In 1986, psychologists introduced the Boredom Proneness Scale,  designed to measure an individual’s overall propensity to feel bored (what’s known as “trait boredom”). By contrast, the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale,  developed in 2008, measures a person’s feelings of boredom in a given situation (“state boredom”). A German-led team has since identified five types of state boredom: indifferent, calibrating, searching, reactant, and apathetic (indifferent boredom—characterized by low arousal—was the mellowest, least unpleasant kind; reactant—high arousal—was the most aggressive and unpleasant.)  Boredom may be miserable, but let no one call it simple.