No. 2 (2024)

Boredom as Information Processing: How Revisiting Ideas from Orin Klapp (1986) Inform the Psychology of Boredom

James Danckert
University of Waterloo

Published 2024-03-05


  • boredom,
  • information processing,
  • exploration/exploitation,
  • computational modeling

How to Cite

Danckert, J., & Gopal, A. (2024). Boredom as Information Processing: How Revisiting Ideas from Orin Klapp (1986) Inform the Psychology of Boredom . Journal of Boredom Studies, (2). Retrieved from


Almost forty years ago, sociologist Orin Klapp penned a treatise on boredom couched in terms of information processing. His essential claim was that boredom would arise at both low and high rates of information change. At the low end, there was too much redundancy and monotony, with any new piece of information failing to add meaning to what was already known. At the high end, noisy and chaotic barrages of information preclude meaning making and result in boredom. In essence, this can be seen as a drive to find a Goldilocks’ zone of information processing. While this theory of boredom is intriguing and clearly fits within other meaning-based accounts of the experience, there has been little direct experimental testing of the idea. This piece first characterizes Klapp’s theory before presenting what evidence there is that boredom arises at both high and low ends of various domains related to information processing (e.g., difficulty, challenge). Next, we discuss recent computational accounts that suggest a similar role for boredom in optimally processing information. We end with a call for more research to test Klapp’s model of boredom.


  1. Agrawal, M., Mattar, M. G., Cohen, J. D., and Daw, N. D. (2022). The Temporal Dynamics of Opportunity Costs: A Normative Account of Cognitive Fatigue and Boredom. Psychological Review, 129(3), 564.
  2. Boylan, J., Seli, P., Scholer, A. A., and Danckert, J. (2021). Boredom in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Trait Boredom Proneness, the Desire to Act, and Rule-breaking. Personality and Individual Differences, 171, 110387.
  3. Burda, Y., Edwards, H., Pathak, D., Storkey, A., Darrell, T., and Efros, A. A. (2018). Large-scale Study of Curiosity-driven Learning. arXiv preprint arXiv:1808.04355.
  4. Cannito, L., Ceccato, I., Annunzi, E., Bortolotti, A., D'intino, E., Palumbo, R., and Palumbo, R. (2023). Bored with Boredom? Trait Boredom Predicts Internet Addiction Through the Mediating Role of Attentional Bias Toward Social Networks. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 17, 1179142.
  5. Carroll, J. (2022, December 12). 23 Trends for 2023: #8 – Knowledge Velocity. Jim Carrol.
  6. Chu, H. Y., and Trujillo, R. G. (2009). New Views on R. Buckminster Fuller. Stanford University Press.
  7. Danckert, J. (2019). Boredom: Managing the Delicate Balance Between Exploration and Exploitation. In J. Ros Velasco (Ed.), Boredom Is in Your Mind: A Shared Psychological-Philosophical Approach (pp. 37–53). Springer.
  8. Danckert, J., and Elpidorou, A. (2023). In Search of Boredom: Beyond a Functional Account. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 27, 494–507.
  9. Danckert, J., and Eastwood, J. D. (2020). Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom. Harvard University Press.
  10. Dixon, M. J., Stange, M., Larche, C. J., Graydon, C., Fugelsang, J. A., and Harrigan, K. A. (2018). Dark Flow, Depression and Multiline Slot Machine Play. Journal of Gambling Studies, 34, 73–84.
  11. Dora, J., Van Hooff, M., Geurts, S., Kompier, M., and Bijleveld, E. (2021). Fatigue, Boredom and Objectively Measured Smartphone Use at Work. Royal Society Open Science, 8(7), 201915.
  12. Drody, A. C., Hicks, L. J., and Danckert, J. (2022). Boredom proneness and rule-breaking: A persistent relation one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Behavioral Sciences, 12(8), 251.
  13. Eastwood, J. D., and Gorelik, D. (2019). Boredom Is a Feeling of Thinking and a Double-edged Sword. In J. Ros Velasco (Ed.), Boredom Is in Your Mind: A Shared Psychological-Philosophical Approach (pp. 55–70). Springer.
  14. Eastwood, J. D., Frischen, A., Fenske, M. J., and Smilek, D. (2012). The Unengaged Mind: Defining Boredom in Terms of Attention. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(5), 482–495.
  15. Elhai, J. D., Vasquez, J. K., Lustgarten, S. D., Levine, J. C., and Hall, B. J. (2018). Proneness to Boredom Mediates Relationships Between Problematic Smartphone Use with Depression and Anxiety Severity. Social Science Computer Review, 36(6), 707–720.
  16. Friston, K., Thornton, C., and Clark, A. (2012). Free-energy Minimization and the Dark-room Problem. Frontiers in Psychology, 130.
  17. Friston, K., and Kiebel, S. (2009). Predictive Coding under the Free-energy Principle. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1521), 1211–1221.
  18. Geana, A., Wilson, R., Daw, N. D., and Cohen, J. (2016). Boredom, Information-seeking and Exploration. Cognitive Science, 40, 1751–1756.
  19. Gollwitzer, P. M., and Oettingen, G. (2012). Goal Pursuit. In R. M. Ryan (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation (pp. 208–231). Oxford University Press.
  20. Gomez-Ramirez, J., and Costa, T. (2017). Boredom Begets Creativity: A Solution to the Exploitation–exploration Trade-off in Predictive Coding. Biosystems, 162, 168–176.
  21. Gu, Z., Yang, C., Su, Q., and Liang, Y. (2023). The Boredom Proneness Levels of Chinese College Students Increased over Time: A Meta-analysis of Birth Cohort Differences from 2009 to 2020. Personality and Individual Differences, 215, 112370.
  22. Havermans, R. C., Vancleef, L., Kalamatianos, A., and Nederkoorn, C. (2015). Eating and Inflicting Pain out of Boredom. Appetite, 85, 52–57.
  23. Heron, W. (1957). The Pathology of Boredom. Scientific American, 196(1), 52–57.
  24. Hunter, A., and Eastwood, J. D. (2018). Does State Boredom Cause Failures of Attention? Examining the Relations Between Trait Boredom, State Boredom, and Sustained Attention. Experimental Brain Research, 236, 2483–2492.
  25. Kapteyn, A., Wansbeek, T., and Buyze, J. (1979). Maximizing or Satisficing. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 549–563.
  26. Klapp, O. E. (1986). Overload and Boredom: Essays on the Quality of Life in the Information Society. Greenwood Publishing Group Inc.
  27. Kruger, T. B., Dixon, M. J., Graydon, C., Stange, M., Larche, C. J., Smith, S. D., and Smilek, D. (2020). Using Deliberate Mind-wandering to Escape Negative Mood States: Implications for Gambling to Escape. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 9(3), 723–733.
  28. Kurzban, R., Duckworth, A., Kable, J. W., and Myers, J. (2013). An Opportunity Cost Model of Subjective Effort and Task Performance. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36(6), 661–679.
  29. Lin, C., Lin, S., and Wu, C. (2009). The Effects of Parental Monitoring and Leisure Boredom on Adolescents’ Internet Addiction. Adolescence, 44(176), 993–1004.
  30. Malkovsky, E., Merrifield, C., Goldberg, Y., and Danckert, J. (2012). Exploring the Relationship Between Boredom and Sustained Attention. Experimental Brain Research, 221, 59–67.
  31. March, E., and Marrington, J. (2019). A Qualitative Analysis of Internet Trolling. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 22(3), 192–197.
  32. Mercer, K. B., and Eastwood, J. D. (2010). Is Boredom Associated with Problem Gambling Behaviour? It Depends on What You Mean by ‘Boredom’. International Gambling Studies, 10(1), 91–104.
  33. Mugon, J., Struk, A., and Danckert, J. (2018). A Failure to Launch: Regulatory Modes and Boredom Proneness. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1126.
  34. Nederkoorn, C., Vancleef, L., Wilkenhöner, A., Claes, L., and Havermans, R. C. (2016). Self-inflicted Pain out of Boredom. Psychiatry Research, 237, 127–132.
  35. Nettinga, J., Gutglick, R., and Danckert, J. (2023). Exploring the Relation Between State and Trait Boredom and Various Measures of Creativity. Journal of Boredom Studies, 1.
  36. Pantazi, M., Hale, S., and Klein, O. (2021). Social and Cognitive Aspects of the Vulnerability to Political Misinformation. Political Psychology, 42, 267–304.
  37. Pennycook, G., and Rand, D. G. (2021). The Psychology of Fake News. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 25, 388–402.
  38. Seiler, J. P. H., and Rumpel, S. (2023). Modeling Fashion as an Emergent Collective Behavior of Bored Individuals. Scientific Reports, 13, 20480.
  39. Sherman, S. M., and Usrey, W. M. (2021). Cortical Control of Behavior and Attention from an Evolutionary Perspective. Neuron, 109(19), 3048–3054.
  40. Simmel, G. (1950). The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Simon and Schuster.
  41. Struk, A. A., Scholer, A. A., and Danckert, J. (2021). Perceptions of Control Influence Feelings of Boredom. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 687623.
  42. Struk, A. A., Scholer, A. A., Danckert, J., and Seli, P. (2020). Rich Environments, Dull Experiences: How Environment Can Exacerbate the Effect of Constraint on the Experience of Boredom. Cognition and Emotion, 34(7), 1517–1523.
  43. Sun, Z., and Firestone, C. (2020). The Dark Room Problem. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24(5), 346–348.
  44. Tam, K. Y., Van Tilburg, W. A., Chan, C. S., Igou, E. R., and Lau, H. (2021a). Attention Drifting in and out: The Boredom Feedback Model. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 25(3), 251–272.
  45. Tam, K. Y., Van Tilburg, W. A., and Chan, C. S. (2021b). What Is Boredom Proneness? A Comparison of Three Characterizations. Journal of personality, 89(4), 831–846.
  46. Van Tilburg, W. A., Igou, E. R., and Sedikides, C. (2013). In Search of Meaningfulness: Nostalgia as an Antidote to Boredom. Emotion, 13(3), 450.
  47. Van Tilburg, W. A., and Igou, E. R. (2012). On Boredom: Lack of Challenge and Meaning as Distinct Boredom Experiences. Motivation and Emotion, 36(2), 181–194.
  48. Wang, Y., Yang, H., Montag, C., and Elhai, J. D. (2020). Boredom Proneness and Rumination Mediate Relationships Between Depression and Anxiety with Problematic Smartphone Use Severity. Current Psychology, 1–11.
  49. Weiss, E. R., Todman, M., Maple, E., and Bunn, R. R. (2022). Boredom in a Time of Uncertainty: State and Trait Boredom’s Associations with Psychological Health During COVID-19. Behavioral Sciences, 12(8), 298.
  50. Westgate, E. C., and Wilson, T. D. (2018). Boring Thoughts and Bored Minds: The MAC Model of Boredom and Cognitive Engagement. Psychological Review, 125(5), 689.
  51. Weybright, E. H., Schulenberg, J., and Caldwell, L. L. (2020). More Bored Today than Yesterday? National Trends in Adolescent Boredom from 2008 to 2017. Journal of Adolescent Health, 66(3), 360–365.
  52. Willging, C. E., Quintero, G. A., and Lilliott, E. A. (2014). Hitting the Wall: Youth Perspectives on Boredom, Trouble, and Drug Use Dynamics in Rural New Mexico. Youth & Society, 46(1), 3–29.
  53. Wilson, T. D., Reinhard, D. A., Westgate, E. C., Gilbert, D. T., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn, C., and Shaked, A. (2014). Just Think: The Challenges of the Disengaged Mind. Science, 345(6192), 75–77.
  54. Wolff, W., Martarelli, C. S., Schüler, J., and Bieleke, M. (2020). High Boredom Proneness and Low Trait Self-control Impair Adherence to Social Distancing Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(15), 5420.
  55. Wolniewicz, C. A., Rozgonjuk, D., and Elhai, J. D. (2020). Boredom Proneness and Fear of Missing out Mediate Relations Between Depression and Anxiety with Problematic Smartphone Use. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 2(1), 61–70.
  56. Yang, X. J., Liu, Q. Q., Lian, S. L., and Zhou, Z. K. (2020). Are Bored Minds More Likely to Be Addicted? The Relationship Between Boredom Proneness and Problematic Mobile Phone Use. Addictive Behaviors, 108, 106426.
  57. Yawata, Y., Shikano, Y., Ogasawara, J., Makino, K., Kashima, T., Ihara, K., and Ikegaya, Y. (2023). Mesolimbic Dopamine Release Precedes Actively Sought Aversive Stimuli in Mice. Nature Communications, 14(1), 2433.
  58. Yu, Y., Chang, A. Y., and Kanai, R. (2019). Boredom-driven Curious Learning by Homeo-heterostatic Value Gradients. Frontiers in Neurorobotics, 88.