Social Media Use Increases Boredom and Homework Decreases Boredom, Kent State Research Shows
The Pew Research Center found in 2019 that 72% of Americans use social media. The percentage of teen and young adult users is even higher. At the same time, “I’m bored” is a constant refrain, uttered as if boredom relief is a perplexing mystery. Researchers Andrew Lepp, Ph.D., and Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., from Kent State University’s College of Education, Health and Human Services suspected a relationship between boredom and social media use but wondered about cause and effect. Does social media use cause boredom? Or does boredom cause social media use? To answer these questions, they designed an experiment.
“Boredom was on the rise across college campuses, even before the pandemic hit,” Barkley said. “We designed a study to assess the effect of common, everyday activities on this negative emotion.”
Lepp and Barkley recruited 40 college students to participate. Each student completed four, 30-minute conditions on separate days in an empty room. The first condition had students utilizing their smartphone to freely engage with social media. The second condition had students completing self-selected schoolwork. The third condition had students walking on a treadmill with no music or other distractions. The fourth condition was a control condition in which students did nothing but sit quietly. Participants completed validated surveys assessing different aspects of boredom at the beginning of each condition, after 15 minutes and finally after 30 minutes. With this study design, the researchers were able to compare changes in boredom for each activity over the 30-minute condition.
Results of the data analysis showed that social media use caused boredom to increase over the 30-minute condition. This was true for each measure of boredom. In the social media condition, participants became increasingly disengaged, inattentive and felt as if time was passing more slowly. In contrast, studying or completing homework significantly decreased feelings of boredom for each of the measures used. Relative to social media use, treadmill walking in the same empty room caused a smaller increase in boredom and only for some of the measures used. And as expected, the control condition (i.e., doing nothing) also increased boredom.
“What is interesting is that people believe the opposite,” Lepp offered. “We tend to think social media use alleviates boredom while homework causes boredom. This appears to be an error in our judgment.
“Social media use poses little challenge, requires little skill and offers little reward; these are the ingredients of a boring activity,” Lepp explained. “Completing schoolwork, on the other hand, usually offers the right amount of challenge to keep us engaged, and completing homework rewards us with feelings of competence and accomplishment.”
Barkley, an exercise scientist, was also interested in the treadmill results.
“Our findings suggest that 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill in an empty room is not as boring as an equivalent amount of social media use,” Barkley said. “Imagine then the benefits of walking outside in a park or a similar interesting environment. I’d guess that would be a healthy and effective antidote to boredom.”
In general, both researchers agreed that the cure to boredom is participation in mildly challenging activities that require some skill and effort. From what they learned in this study, social media use is not that kind of activity. Instead, it might best be described as “#boring.”
The researchers’ study is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
For more information about Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services, visit www.kent.edu/ehhs.
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Photo of Kent State student doing homework:
A Kent State University student works on her homework at a table on campus.
Photo of Andrew Lepp:
Andrew Lepp, Ph.D., professor in Kent State University’s College of Education, Health and Human Services, co-authored a study that examines the relationship between boredom and social media use.
Photo of Jacob Barkley:
Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., professor in Kent State University’s College of Education, Health and Human Services, co-authored a study that examines the relationship between boredom and social media use.