In an article I read recently the author mentions a certain study. He claims that it showed that people are likely to judge a task "boring", when in truth it was not, but there were low-intensity background distractions.

I read once about a study where people were expected to read material amid low-level stressors and distractions and they attributed their poor performance not to the environment but to the material being “boring”, while control-group subjects (who comprehended the material well) found it interesting.

Unfortunately the author does not reference the study and I cannot find it myself. While this claim does indeed seem plausible to me, I'd like to see some more solid evidence. Does anyone know about this study or any other similar?

  • @Chad - Not skeptical, but I want to find the study or some other "hard" evidence (which I can in turn use to convince others). And it's not about "an improperly stimulating environment", but rather about "a typical office environment" and our brain's tendency to trick us into believing that what we're doing is boring instead of that we're being distracted.
    – Vilx-
    Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 7:35
  • @Chad - yes, but depending on what those stressors were (another reason for wanting to find that study) it could be a fair model of a typical office. Or, at least, my office. :D Anyways, without seeing the study it's hard to comment on it.
    – Vilx-
    Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 7:50
  • From the FAQ: Skeptics - Stack Exchange is for challenging unreferenced notable claims, pseudoscience and biased results. Skeptics is about applying skepticism — it is for researching the evidence behind claims you encounter. - You are asking to find research but one of the tenets of this site is you have to have a claim to be skeptical of. You may be better off asking this on Biology or even the workplace. But this question as posed does not belong here.
    – Chad
    Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 13:32
  • @Chad - I don't see what my attitude has to do with the question. Just because I'm 75% inclined to agree with it (but there's still 25% doubt), doesn't mean that this topic hasn't been read by 30 people who are skeptical about this claim. As I see it, the question itself, as it is currently stated, conforms to all the tenets. It has an unreferenced claim by a notable website to which it asks for evidence. (And, please, let's not start nitpicking about what counts as a "notable website")
    – Vilx-
    Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 14:22
  • Let me be clear. I am not saying you are asking for something bad. But you are asking for research on a subject with out a notable claim to be skeptical of. That makes the question off topic for skeptics. As you stated you are not skeptical of the conclusion the study here drew you are looking for research that goes beyond. That is a request for research which is off topic for skeptics.
    – Chad
    Commented Aug 16, 2012 at 15:30

1 Answer 1


Naturally I don't know which particular study the author meant, and a large number examines the relationship between being distracted and boredom (a single search revealed hundreds), but this one particularly came to mind (The experience of boredom: The role of the self-perception of attention. Damrad-Frye, Robin; Laird, James D. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 57(2), Aug 1989, 315-320.):

Ss in a listening situation were simultaneously distracted (a) not at all, (b) moderately, or (c) loudly. As hypothesized, Ss who were distracted by extraneous noise at levels too low to be recognized as a distraction reported that they felt more bored and that the task was less pleasant. That is, they attributed their inattention to the material as opposed to the distraction. Extraverts required louder distractions than introverts to produce boredom.

More on boredom and attention in LePera's Relationships between boredom proneness, mindfulness, anxiety, depression, and substance use (1):

According to the attentional theory of boredom proneness, boredom results from a deficit in attention (Harris, 2000). The current study investigated the relationship between mindfulness (the ability to attend to the immediate environment) and boredom proneness [...]

It also seems people judge the attractiveness of a task based on the particular distractions they've experienced (2):

Four studies tested whether people also rely on unobservable “behavior,” their mindwandering, when making such inferences. It is proposed here that people rely on the content of their mindwandering to decide whether it reflects boredom with an ongoing task or a reverie’s irresistible pull. Having the mind wander to positive events, to concurrent as opposed to past activities, and to many events rather than just one tends to be attributed to boredom and therefore leads to perceived dissatisfaction with an ongoing task

1: http://www.nspb.net/index.php/nspb/article/view/159 2: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0146167210375434

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