Can Boredom Cause Extreme Political Views?

Political partisans simply may not have anything better going on in their lives, a new study suggests.

As the current election cycle demonstrates, as have others in recent memory, the gulf between Americans on both political sides of the spectrum is widening, with participants on both sides seemingly drawn further to the fringes.

There have been a number of attempts to diagnose the roots of what's driving political participants to the extremes, such as the recent article in The Atlantic titled "How American Politics Went Insane."

But a recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology proposes a seemingly simple explanation for a complex issue: Boredom could lead to more extreme political views.

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As the U.K.-based authors explain in introducing their study, past research has shown that people prone to boredom are more likely to be depressed, hostile, anxious and lonely, often finding their lives and routines without meaning.

"Boredom puts people on edge; it makes them seek engagements that are challenging, exciting, and that offer a sense of purpose," said study co-author Wijnand van Tilburg from King's College London. "Political ideologies can aid this existential quest."

The research team conducted their study in two parts. In their first experiment, they enlisted 97 college students and asked the participants to rate their political orientation on a seven-point scale before randomly being assigned either an exceptionally boring chore, transcribing 10 references about concrete mixing, or a comparatively less tedious task.

After completing their assignment, participants again evaluated their political orientation. Those belonging to the low-boredom group were comparatively more moderate than those in the high-boredom pool, a pattern that bore out similarly among self-described liberals and conservatives.

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For the second half of the study, the authors surveyed 859 people living in Ireland. Here, the researchers found that those more easily bored also tended to have more extreme political leanings. A second, smaller survey determined that those more prone to boredom also were more inclined to search for meaning in their lives.

An admitted limitation of the study is that the researchers still do not know how much of an impact boredom plays in political orientation. "To gain more insight into the magnitude of boredom's role one could test, say, how voters behave in an election and see how that correlates with individual differences in boredom," van Tilburg noted.

For now at least, anyone turned off by the current electoral climate, with actors on both sides being pulled farther from the center of the political stage, may be able to take solace in the fact that those loud and often emotional partisans simply don't have anything better going on in their lives.

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