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DOES A LACK OF LIFE MEANING CAUSE BOREDOM? RESULTS FROM PSYCHOMETRIC, ...

Fahlman, Shelley A;Mercer, Kimberley B;Gaskovski, Peter;Eastwood, Adrienne E;Eastwood, John D


Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology; Mar 2009; 28, 3; ProQuest Central pg. 307

Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 3, 2009, pp. 307-340

DOES A LACK OF LIFE MEANING


CAUSE BOREDOM? RESULTS FROM
PSYCHOMETRIC, LONGITUDINAL,
AND EXPERIMENTAL ANALYSES
SHELLEY A. FAHLMAN, KIMBERLEY B. MERCER, PETER GASKOVSKI,
ADRIENNE E. EASTWOOD, AND JOHN D. EASTWOOD

Existential theory and previous qualitative research have suggested that a lack of life
meaning and purpose causes boredom, as well as other types of negative affect such
as depression or anxiety. Although these variables have been shown to be correlated at
one point in time, the relationships among these constructs have not been investigated
using a controlled, quantitative research design. In Study 1a (N= 131), boredom was
shown to be related to, yet psychometrically distinct from, life meaning, depression, and
anxiety. In Study 1b (N = 88), life meaning significantly predicted changes in boredom
across time while depression and anxiety did not. In addition, boredom was a significant
predictor of changes in life meaning across time, while depression and anxiety were
not. Finally, in Study 2 (N = 102), manipulating perceptions of life meaning significantly
changed boredom, while a manipulation of mood did not. The nature of the relationship
between life meaning and boredom, as well as some clinical implications, are
discussed.

Boredom is a common yet insidious human experience. Although


boredom makes "no grand gestures, nor great cries" (Baudelaire,
1993, p. 7) and, on first glance, appears deceptively simple, a closer
examination reveals an intractable and complex malady. The term
boredom is used to refer to a wide range of experience, from trivial
and transient dissatisfaction, to extreme, chronic suffering. In terms of
its defining elements, however, boredom involves dissatisfaction with
and disengagement from one's environment and/or current acPortions of this research (Study 2) are based on the Master's thesis of the first author.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. John Eastwood, Department of
Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3. E-mail:
johneast@yorku.ca.
307

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308

LACK OF LIFE MEANING

tivity (e.g., Fenichel, 1951; Mikulas & Vodanovich, 1993). Although a


bored individual wishes to be engaged in satisfying activity, the
individual may feel that there is "nothing to do," that they cannot
identify an activity that would satisfy their desire, or that they must do
things they do not want to do (Fahlman, Mercer, Flora, & Eastwood,
2008). The English word "boredom" has a relatively specific and
recent historical origin (Spacks, 1995), but the psychological state to
which it refers has been explored by observers of the human condition
since antiquity (Kuhn, 1976). Among modern thinkers, Schopenhauer
(1995) describes ennui as a "lifeless yearning without a definite
object, a deadening languor" (p. 85). Byron calls boredom "that awful
yawn which sleep cannot abate" (Steffan & Pratt, 1971, p. 405).
Finally, Fromm (1955) claims that "among the evils of life, there are
few which are as painful as boredom, and consequently every attempt
is made to avoid it" (p. 202).
In contrast to its treatment in literary and philosophical work,
boredom has received relatively little attention in the psychological
literature. In fact, Smith (1981) noted that between 1926 and 1980 an
average of less than one paper per year was published on the topic. In
more recent years, however, this trend has been shifting, and a
growing body of literature has demonstrated that boredom is
associated with significant psychological, behavioral, and social
difficulties (e.g., Blaszczynski, McConaghy, & Frankova, 1990; Harris, 2000; Sommers & Vodanovich, 2000). Most consistently, studies
have shown that boredom is correlated with various types of negative
affect, including depression, anxiety, apathy, hopelessness, and lacking
a sense of meaning or purpose in life (Ahmed, 1990; Bargdill, 2000;
Blaszczynski et al., 1990; Farmer & Sundberg, 1986; MacDon-ald &
Holland, 2002; Passik, Inman, Kirsh, Theobald, & Dickerson, 2003;
Sommers & Vodanovich, 2000; Vodanovich & Verner, 1991;
Weinstein, Xie, & Cleanthous, 1995). With such relations to different
forms of negative affect, boredom is surely not simply a transient form
of suffering. In fact, several authors have documented cases of
individuals experiencing chronic boredom (e.g., Bargdill, 2000; Drob
& Bernard, 1987)one even describing a man who was "almost
bored to death" (Maltsberger, 2000).
Although the associations between boredom and various types of
negative affect have been reliably demonstrated, there have been few
efforts to fully understand or interpret these findings within a
theoretical framework. However, one such frameworkthe ex-

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FAHLMAN ET AL.

309

istential traditionprovides a clear frame for understanding the


relationship between boredom, negative affect, and life meaning.
Although diverse in their thinking, many existential theorists posit that
lacking a sense of life meaning is at the forefront of human suffering,
and that experiences of boredom and negative affect are central
components of this lack of purpose or meaning. Frankl
(1959/1962/1984), for example, emphasizes the fundamental importance of having of a sense of meaning in one's life. Indeed, for him,
the quest to find and fulfill a sense of meaning is the essence of
human motivation, a basic striving that he calls the "will to meaning"
(Frankl, 1978). According to Frankl (1959/1962/1984, 1978), the
conditions of modern society have left many individuals with a feeling
of meaninglessnessan affliction he refers to as an existential
vacuum. When this condition remains unresolved, individuals are said
to "lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are
haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within
themselves" (Frankl, 1959/1962/1984, p. 128). Frankl further contends
that "the existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of
boredom" (p. 129). Yet, he also notes that the existential vacuum is
associated with negative affective states, such as dysphoria, as well as
resulting maladaptive behaviors, such as aggression or suicide.
A similar but distinct conceptualization of boredom and negative
affect is offered by Maddi, in which he too underlines the importance
of the search for meaning (Maddi, 1967,1970). For Maddi (1970),
both boredom and negative affect arise from a psychopa-thology of
meaningwhat he refers to as existential sickness or existential
neurosis, which he defines as "a settled, continuous state of
meaninglessness, apathy, and aimlessness" (p. 140). The affective
component of this existential sickness involves a "general absence of
emotions, pleasant or unpleasant, with the exception of boredom" (p.
140, emphasis added). Although boredom is the primary affective
symptom, existential sickness can also manifest in intermittent periods
of depression. Yet, according to Maddi, if the condition is prolonged,
depression recedes and the individual is overcome by "apathy and
boredom, and more apathy and boredom, in a humdrum cycle of
indifference" (p. 140).
At least two empirical studies have examined the relationship between life meaning and boredom using qualitative methods. First,

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

Drob and Bernard (1987), on the basis of clinical case studies, challenged the classic psychoanalytic assumption that chronic boredom is
a consequence of defensive operations (i.e., that boredom develops
after instinctual aims are blocked from awareness, resulting in
impoverished desire, fantasy and emotion, e.g., Wangh, 1975).
Instead, Drob and Bernard concluded that the chronically bored individual is devoid of purpose: he or she has failed to achieve a fundamental life project that gives meaning to his or her life. Although
this lack of direction may, in part, result from defensive factors, it is
the lack of purpose or meaning which is the critical causal factor in
the development of chronic boredom. Accordingly, Drob and Bernard
suggest that it is only when the individual has adopted a meaningful
life project or theme that boredom can be overcome.
More recently, Bargdill (2000) has adopted a similar view of boredom. In conducting interviews with individuals who were bored with
their lives, Bargdill found that emotional ambivalence is a key element
of life boredomambivalence which developed after these
individuals had compromised their personal life projects, goals, or
dreams. After replacing their desires with less desired projects, they
became emotionally torn. On the one hand, they felt anger and blame
toward the world and others, particularly toward those whom they felt
had "forced" them to compromise their personal projects; on the other
hand, they felt shame and self-blame, realizing they had sold short
their own dreams to pursue those of others. Moreover, the boredom
they felt toward their modified projects spread to other aspects of their
lives. This chronic boredom was accompanied by feelings of
emptiness, and eventually individuals became passive and avoidant
toward their lives. Bargdill thus concluded that losing or turning away
from personally meaningful life goals leads to feeling "stuck" in a
chronic state of boredom. In short, the work of Bargdill (2000), like
that of Drob and Bernard (1987), suggests that the loss of or failure to
develop meaningful life goals causes the experience of chronic
boredom.
Existential theory and these two qualitative studies suggest that
boredom arises from a lack of life meaning. Although previous research has shown that these variables are significantly related when
measured at one point in time (e.g., MacDonald & Holland, 2002;
Weinstein, Xie, & Cleanthous, 1995), cause cannot be inferred from
correlations alone. In order to remedy this gap in existing research, the
present research evaluated the relationships among these vari-

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FAHLMAN ET AL

311

ables using a quantitative, controlled research design. Specifically, the


existential hypothesis that a lack of meaning causes boredom was
tested. In addition, because existential theory implies that boredom's
relationship to negative affect can be accounted for by life meaning, a
related sub-goal of the present research was to examine this
possibility.
In order to demonstrate that changes in life meaning cause changes
in boredom, it first must be shown that these constructs can be reliably
and distinctly measured. Then, the temporal precedence of life
meaning must be demonstrated by examining its effect on boredom
across time (in addition to its impact on depression and anxiety).
Finally, the presumed "cause" must be shown to correlate with its
presumed effect when other relevant variables are held constantthat
is, the causal variable must be selectively manipulated via a controlled
experimental design. This was the approach taken in the present
investigation. Specifically, boredom, life meaning, and negative affect
(i.e., depression and anxiety) were first examined for psychometric
distinctiveness (Study la). Next, the variables were examined across
time in order to evaluate their predictive value (Study lb). Finally, an
experimental approach was used to examine whether temporarily
manipulating perceptions of life meaning and purpose would have the
expected impact on boredom, as opposed to manipulating negative
affect alone (Study 2).
STUDY 1A
The purpose of Study la was to determine whether boredom, life
meaning, depression and anxiety are correlated, yet psychometri-cally
distinct, constructs. To achieve this purpose, structural equation
modeling analyses were used to determine whether these variables
could be best described as four separate constructs.
METHOD
Participants and Procedure
Participants were 138 undergraduate students enrolled in introductory
psychology courses. They were 77% female (n - 106) with a mean
age of 19.4 (SD = 2.5, range 17 to 36). Participants received

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

course credit for participating. Questionnaire packages containing


self-report measures of boredom, meaning, anxiety, and depression
were included in four different orders.
Measures
Boredom Proneness Scale. The Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS;
Farmer & Sundberg, 1986) is a trait scale with 28 items measuring
"one's proneness toward experiencing boredom" (p. 5). The internal
consistency of the 7-point Likert version has been reported to range
from .79 to .83 (Farmer & Sundberg, 1986; Vodanovich & Kass, 1990).
The test-retest reliability was reported to be .79 over a one-week interval (Polly, Vodanovich, Watt, & Blanchard, 1993). Higher scores
indicate greater proneness toward experiencing boredom.
Boredom Coping Scale. The Boredom Coping Scale (BCS; Hamilton,
Haier, & Buchsbaum, 1984) consists of 10 forced-choice items intended "to reflect one's disposition to restructure one's perceptions and
participation in potentially boring activities so as to decrease
boredom" (p. 183). In other words, it assesses the ability to avoid the
experience of boredom (e.g., "I easily find ways to entertain myself
even if others are bored"). The internal consistency is reported to be .
67, and the test-retest reliability based on a one- to three-week interval
is .64 (Hamilton et al., 1984). Higher scores indicate less frequent
boredom.
Purpose in Life Test. The Purpose in Life Test (PIL; Crumbaugh,
1968; Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1964) was developed as a means of
operationalizing Viktor Frankl's concept of life meaning. It is intended
to measure "the degree to which the individual [experiences] 'purpose
in life' " (p. 201), which is defined as "the onto-logical significance of
life from the point of view of the experiencing individual" (p. 201).
The internal consistency of the PIL has been reported to range from .
90 to .92 (Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1964; Re-ker, 1977), and the splithalf reliability from .87 to .92 (Crumbaugh, 1968; Reker & Cousins,
1979). Reported test-retest coefficients are .83 over a one-week
interval (Meier & Edwards, 1974), and .68 over a three-month interval
(Reker, 1977). Higher scores indicate a greater degree of purpose in
life.
Life Regard Index. The Life Regard Index (LRI; Battista & Almond,
1973) is a 28-item measure of "positive life regard" (i.e., life mean-

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FAHLMANETAL.

313

ing). All items are measured on a 5-point scale. It has an internal


consistency of .86 (Debats, 1990), and test-retest reliability ranging
from .80 to .94 (Battista & Almond, 1973; Debats, van der Lubbe, &
Wezeman, 1993). Higher scores indicate a greater degree of life
meaning.
Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. The Center for
Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD; Radloff, 1977) is a
20-item scale that measures current level of depressive symptomatology in the general public. According to Radloff (1977), the internal
consistency is .85 and the test re-test reliability ranges from .45 to .70.
Higher scores indicate greater depressive symptomatology.
Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. The Hospital Anxiety and
Depression Scale (HADS; Zigmond & Snaith, 1983) has two major
subscales, one measuring anxiety (HADS-A) and one measuring depression (HADS-D). It contains 14 items (7 depression items, 7 anxiety items), each measured on a 4-point scale. The internal consistency
ranges from .68 to .93 for HADS-A, and .67 to .90 for HADS-D
(Bjelland, Dahl, Haug, & Neckelmann, 2002). Higher scores indicate
greater depressive or anxious symptomatology.
Self-Rating Depression Scale. The Self-Rating Depression Scale
(SDS; Zung, 1965) measures both physiological and psychological
symptoms of depression. It contains 20 items, each measured on a 4point Likert scale. According to a review by Thurber, Snow, and
Honts (2002), the internal consistency has ranged from .79 to .88.
Higher scores indicate greater depressive symptomatology.
State-Trait Personality Inventory, Form YTrait Anxiety Scale. The
State-Trait Personality Inventory (STPI; Spielberger, 1995; Spielberger & Reheiser, 2004) measures both state and trait forms of curiousity, anxiety, depression, and anger. The total scale contains 80
items, with 10 items for each subscale. All items are measured on a 4point scale. The Trait Anxiety scale (ANX)used in the present study
measures the general tendency to respond with elevated anxiety to
threatening situations. Higher scores indicate a greater tendency
toward elevated anxiety.
Latent Factors
Four latent factors specified were Depression, Boredom, Meaning/Purpose in Life, and Anxiety. Indicators of Depression included: (a) Cen-

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

ter for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD), (b) Hospital


Anxiety and Depression ScaleDepression scale (HADS-D), and (c)
the Self-Rating Depression Scale (SDS). Indicators of Boredom
included: (a) the Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS), and (b) the
Boredom Coping Scale (BCS). Indicators of Meaning/Purpose in Life
included: (a) the Purpose in Life Test (PIL), and (b) the Life Regard
Index (LRI). Finally, indicators of Anxiety included: (a) the Hospital
Anxiety and Depression ScaleAnxiety scale (HADS-A), and (b) the
State-Trait Personality InventoryTrait Anxiety scale (ANX).
Measurement Models. It was predicted that boredom, life meaning,
depression, and anxiety would be correlated, yet psychometrically
distinct, constructs. Support for this prediction would be indicated by
a four-factor model that provided a better fit to the data than four
possible three-factor models. The Chi-square difference test was used
to compare nested models to the four factor model. In each of the
three-factor models, two of the latent factors were specified to
measure the same underlying construct as follows: model 3-factorA =
depression/anxiety, boredom, and meaning; model 3-factorB =
depression, anxiety, and boredom/meaning; model 3-factorC =
boredom/depression, meaning, and anxiety; and model 3-factorD =
boredom/anxiety, depression, and meaning. All co-variances were
constrained to a value of one.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Two participants had missing data on the SDS, and one participant had
missing data on the Trait Anxiety scale. In addition, two outliers (i.e.,
greater than three standard deviations above or below the mean) were
detected on the HADS-D scale, one on the CESD scale, and one on
the HADS-A scale. These seven participants were excluded from the
present analysis, resulting in a sample size of 131. All variables were
normally distributed. Table 1 presents the correlation matrix and
standard deviations.
Maximum likelihood estimation was used to estimate the fit of the
obtained covariance matrix for the measurement models. Several fit
indices were chosen to evaluate model fit. Chi-square (%2), with its
associated p value, indicates that the specified paths in the tested
model provide a good fit to the data when p is nonsignificant (p >

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FAHLMANETAL.

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TABLE 1. Study 1a Correlation Matrix, Means, and Standard Deviations (N = 131)


1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Depression
1. CESD
2. HADS Depression

.640

3.SDS

.754

.625

Boredom
4. Boredom Proneness

.466

.445

.578

-.200

-.266

-.294

-.595

6. Purpose in Life

-.654

-.550

-.659

-.574

.327

7. Life Regard Index

-.541

-.455

-.571

-.572

.375

8. HADS Anxiety

.556

.524

.527

.235

-.181

-.399

-.258

9. STPI Trait Anxiety

.618

.474

.566

.387

-.171

-.501

-.454

.488

15.06

3.45

38.38

96.18

6.30

104.63

102.43

7.50

21.15

7.32

2.37

6.62

17.79

2.04

15.13

14.41

3.10

3.57

5. Boredom Coping
Meaning/ Purpose

.806

Anxiety

Means
Standard deviations

Note. All correlations p < .05. CESD = Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale; SDS = SelfRating Depression Scale.

.05). In addition, when values of the Tucker-Lewis index (TLI) and


the comparative fit index (CFI) exceed .90, the tested model fits the
data better than the null model. Finally, the root-mean-square error of
approximation (RMSEA) and 90% confidence intervals were
included, for which excellent fit is indicated by values of .05 or less,
adequate fit is indicated by values of .08 or less, and poor fit is indicated by values of .10 or greater (Hu & Bentler, 1999).
Results indicated that the four-factor solution, with a constrained
error variance,1 provided an excellent fit to the data (Table 2). In
contrast, the alternative three-factor models resulted in poorer fit
indices relative to the four-factor model, with the exception of
1. The BPS factor loading initially exceeded one (i.e., 1.08), which is known as a Heywood
case. In such a scenario, Dillon, Kumar, and Mulani (1987) recommend that the problematic error
variance be constrained to zero if "the model provides a reasonable fit, the respective confidence
interval for the offending estimate covers zero, and the magnitude of the corresponding estimated
standard error is roughly the same as the other estimated standard errors" (p. 134). Our data met
these conditions, and therefore the BPS error variance was constrained to zero, resulting in a
factor loading of one.

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

three-factor model A, which combined anxiety and depression into a


single factor; this model was equivalent to, but not better than, the
four-factor model.2 Correlations between all four latent factors were
statistically significant (p < .01) and strong (see Figure 1).
In sum, these findings demonstrate that boredom is related to, yet
psychometrically distinct from, life meaning, as well as other negative
affects (i.e., depression and anxiety).
STUDY 1B
A further step in examining the relationships between these constructs
entails measuring them at more than one point in time in order to
determine whether they predict changes in one another. Thus, the
purpose of Study lb was to explore the relationships between life
meaning, boredom, depression, and anxiety across time. Based on
existential theory, it was predicted that life meaning would better
predict boredom across time (controlling for boredom at time one)
than anxiety or depression. In addition, it was predicted that anxiety,
depression, and boredom would not predict meaning across time
(controlling for meaning at time one), given that meaning is believed
to be the causal variable. Thus, two hierarchical regression analyses
were conducted, the first with boredom and the second with meaning
as the dependent variable.
METHOD
Participants and Procedure
Participants were drawn from the same sample as Study la; however,
88 of these individuals returned at time two, and their data was
analyzed for Study lb. The returning participants were 77% female (n
= 68) with a mean age of 19.5 (SD = 2.9, range 17 to 36).
2. Although they are validated measures of life meaning, some items on the PIL (items
1,2,19) and LRI (items 5,10,12,16,20,24) seem to also measure boredom; thus, in order
to rule out any concern with item conflation, we ran the same analyses excluding these
items. Even with this strict test, results were nearly identical: the four-factor model
provided an excellent fit, x2(22) = 31.56, TLI = .99, CFI = .99, RMSEA = .058, and was better
than all other three-factor models, again, with the exception of three-factor model A
(depression and anxiety combined).

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FAHLMAN ET AL.

317

FIGURE 1. Four-factor measurement model.

They were not significantly different from the Study la sample on


demographic variables (i.e., age or gender) or any of the dependent
variables (i.e., anxiety, depression, boredom, or life meaning). For
each participant, questionnaires were completed approximately three
to eight weeks from the time they completed the questionnaires at
time one.

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

TABLE 2. Study la Fit Indices for Four-Factor Model and Nested Models (N = 131)
Model
xMdf)

4-factor

3-factorA

3-factorB

3-factorC

3-factorD

28.02 (22)

32.61 (25)

150.48(25)

307.37(25)

134.10(25)

p value

.175

.141

.000

.000

.000

TLI

.99

.99

.82

.72

.87

CFI

.99

.99

.88

.81

.91

RMSEA
RMSEA
CI
90%
X2 difference (df)
p value

.046

.048

.196

.295

.183

.000-.091

.000-.090

.170-.230

.270-.320

.150-.21O

4.59 (3)

122.46(3)

279.35(3)

106.08(3)

.204

.000

.000

.000

Note. Model 3-factorA = depression/anxiety, boredom and meaning; 3-factorB = depression, anxiety,
boredom/meaning; 3-factorC = boredom/depression, meaning, and anxiety; and 3-factorD = boredom/anxiety,
depression, and meaning. TLI = Tucker-Lewis Index; CFI = Comparative Fit Index; RMSEA = Root Mean Square Error
of Approximation.

Measures
At time two, participants completed the same questionnaire package
utilized in Study la; however, for the regression analyses, one measure
of each construct was utilized: boredom was measured by the
Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS); depression was measured by the
Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD); life
meaning was measured by the Purpose in Life Test (PIL); and anxiety
was measured by the State-Trait Personality InventoryTrait Anxiety
scale (ANX). See Study la for a description of these measures.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
All variables were normally distributed. Four variables had missing
data from one participant each. In addition, two outliers (i.e., greater
than three standard deviations above or below the mean) were
detected: one on CESD1 and one on BPS2. These total scores were
deleted. For each hierarchical regression analysis, plots of standardized residuals were examined to assess for linearity and homoscedasticity, and participants with standardized residuals greater than
three were excluded from each analysis. In addition, the presence of
multicollinearity was assessed by examining the variance inflation
factors, none of which exceeded 5 for any variable in the following
analyses (range 1.46 to 2.28), indicating the absence of multicol-

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TABLE 3. Correlations Between Depression

Meaning, and Anxiety at Time One and Time Two (n =

88; Study lb)

-.552 -.487

.441

.540

-.228

-.484 -.477

-.495

.543

.684

-.318

-.654 -.630

.432

.521

.648

.710

.794

-.645

-.633 -.617

.411

.419

.505

.385

.588

-.212

-.469

.811

.307

.278

-.200*

-.171*

-.193*

-.279

-.327 -.588

-.626

-.681

-.679

.466

.842

.761

-.481

-.510

-.585

-.544

-.696 -.686

.381

-.469

-.548

-.605

-.583

.454

.765

.885

-.408

-.504

-.541

-.535

-.681

-.713

.371

.790

1 7. HADA2

.514

.610

.646

.359

-.210

-.482

-.475

.702

.589

.529

.657

.599

.372

-.152*

-.515

-.520

18.ANX2

.589

.681

.686

.385

-.258

-.628 -.592

.643

.733

.599

.650

.705

.518

-.220

-.652

-.705

.747

.613

.562

.499

-.269

11.CESD2

.497

.660

.642

.349

12.SDS2

.553

.683

.813

.538

13. BPS2

.447

.489

.558

14. BCS2

-.214

-.160*

15. PIL2

-.540

16. LRI2

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

10. HADD2

N ET
AL.

1
Depression

AHL

, Boredom,
Life

Boredom

Meaning

Anxiety

.725

Note. All correlations p < .05 unless otherwise noted. For correlations between time one variables, see Table 1. Bolded correlations represent stability of scales across
time. 1 = Hospital Anxiety and Depression ScaleDepression scale (HADS-D), Time one; 2 = Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD), Time one; 3 = SelfRating Depression Scale (SDS), Time one; 4 = Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS), Time one; 5 = Boredom Coping Scale (BCS), Time one, 6 = Purpose in Life Test (PIL), Time
one; 7 = Life Regard Index (LRI), Time one; 8 = Hospital Anxiety and Depression ScaleAnxiety Scale (HADS-A), Time one; 9 = State-Trait Personality InventoryTrait
Anxiety scale (ANX), Time one; HADD2 = Hospital Anxiety and Depression ScaleDepression scale, Time two; CESD2 = Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression
Scale, Time two; SDS2 = Self-Rating Depression Scale, Time two; BPS2 = Boredom Proneness Scale, Time two; BCS2 = Boredom Coping Scale, Time two; PIL2 = Purpose in
Life Test, Time two; LRI2 = Life Regard Index, Time two; HADA2 = Hospital Anxiety and Depression ScaleAnxiety scale, Time two; ANX2 = State-Trait Personality Inventory
Trait Anxiety scale, Time two. *p > .05.
O

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

linearity. Correlations between all time one and time two variables are
presented in Table 3.
Predicting Boredom Across Time
The first analysis predicted boredom at time two (Table 4). Boredom
at time one was entered first, and meaning, anxiety, and depression
(all at time one) were entered second. Both the step one, F(l,83)
-145.17, p < .001, and step two, F(4,80) = 40.24, p < .001, omnibus
models were statistically significant. Boredom at time one accounted
for 64% (R2 = .64) of the variance in boredom at time two. The
addition of the three variables in step two accounted for an additional
3% of the variance in boredom at time two (AR 2 - .03), which
approached statistical significance, F(3,80) = 2.55, p = .061.
Importantly, an examination of the individual predictors revealed that
both boredom (B = .656, p < .001) and meaning (B = -.196, p = .044)
were statistically significant predictors of boredom at time two, while
anxiety (B = -.023, p = .798) and depression (B = .063, p = .521) were
not.3
Predicting Meaning Across Time
The second analysis predicted life meaning at time two (Table 5).
Meaning at time one was entered first, and boredom, anxiety, and
depression (all at time one) were entered second. Both the step one,
F(l,84) = 206.60, p < .001, and step two, F(4,81) = 63.82, p < .001,
omnibus models were statistically significant. Meaning at time one
accounted for 71% (R2- .71) of the variance in meaning at time two.
The addition of the three variables in step two accounted for an
additional 5% of the variance in meaning at time two (AR 2 = .05),
which was a statistically significant change in R-squared, F(3,81) =
5.40, p = .002. Anxiety (P = .041, p = .596) and depression (B = -.130,
p - .118) were not statistically significant predictors of meaning at
3. Similar to the approach taken in Study la, we ran a more stringent analysis (here, using
hierarchical regression) without the problematic PIL items. Results were very similar: AR 2 = .03,
p = .087. Boredom (P = .674, p < .001) at time one was a statistically significant predictor of
boredom at time two, while anxiety (P = -.028, p = .762) and depression (P = .073, p = .452)
were not. The only difference was that the standardized beta coefficient and associated p value
for the PIL decreased slightly (p = -.172, p = .070).
4. Again, results were nearly identical with the problematic PIL items removed: AR 2 = .04, p =
.006. Meaning (P = .722, p < .001) and boredom (P = -.213, p = .002) at time one were both
statistically significant predictors of meaning at time two, while anxiety (p = .085, p = .247) and
depression (P = -.104, p = .182) were not.

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FAHLMAN ET AL.

321

TABLE 4. Hierarchical Regression Analysis Predicting Boredom at Time Two (BPS2) from
Boredom, Meaning, Anxiety, and Depression at Time One (Study 1 b)

SEb

K2

AR2

F(AR2)(dfl

.833

.069

.798

12.05

.000*

.636

BPS1

.686

.087

PIL1

-.237

.116

.656

7.86

.000*

-.196

-2.05

ANX1

-.112

.044*

.437

-.023

-0.26

CESD1

.136

.798

.211

.063

0.64

.521

.668

.032

2.55(3,80)

.061

Stepl
BPS1
Step 2

Note. BPS1 = Boredom Proneness Scale, Time one; PIL1 = Purpose in Life Test, Time one; ANX1 =
Slate-Trait Personality InventoryTrait Anxiety scale, Time one; CESD1 = Center for Epidemiologic
Studies Depression Scale, Time one. *p < .05.

time two, while unexpectedly, boredom (P = -.246, p - .001) was a


significant predictor.4
In sum, life meaning was a significant predictor of boredom across
time, whereas anxiety and depression were not. These results are
consistent with existential theory. Unexpectedly, boredom was a
significant predictor of meaning across time. These results suggest
that a bidirectional causal relationship may exist between life meaning
and boredom. Finally, boredom appears to have a more unique
relationship with life meaning than it does with negative affective
states such as depression or anxiety. That is, although boredom, depression, and anxiety are significantly related at one point in time
(e.g., Study la; also see Table 3), Study lb suggested that this relationship is minimal when the variance associated with life meaning is
partialled out. This is consistent with existential theory, which implies
that boredom is related to negative affect because both are brought
about by changes in life meaning.
STUDY 2
The findings of Study lb suggest that life meaning can predict changes
in boredom across time, which is consistent with theoretical claims
and previous qualitative research (Bargdill, 2000; Drob & Bernard,
1987; Maddi, 1967, 1970; Frankl, 1959/1962/1984). The purpose of
Study 2 was to provide a direct test of this hypothesis by investigating
the impact of manipulating life meaning on self-

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

TABLE 5. Hierarchical Regression Analysis Predicting Meaning at Time Two (PIL2) from
Meaning, Boredom, Anxiety, and Depression at Time One (Study 1b)
b

SEb

R2

ARJ

F(AR2)(</r)

1.01

.070

.843

14.37

.000*

.711

PIL1

.750

.097

.629

7.76

.000*

BPS1

-.250

.072

-.246

-3.47

.001*

ANX1

.194

.365

.041

0.53

CESD1

-.250

.176

-.130

-1.58

Stepl
PIL1

Step 2

.596
.118

.759

.048

5.40(3,81)

.002*

Note. BPS1 = Boredom Proneness Scale, Time one; PIL1 = Purpose in Life Test, Time one; ANX1 = StateTrait Personality InventoryTrait Anxiety scale, Time one; CESD1 = Center for Epidemiologic Studies
Depression Scale, Time one. *p < .05.

reported ratings of boredom. As a control, mood alone was manipulated, and its impact on boredom ratings was also examined. That is,
because manipulating meaning was expected to also change mood, a
manipulation of mood alone was included as a control.
In total, four experimental conditions were created: a meaning
manipulation with two levels of meaning (high/low) and a mood
control condition with two levels of mood (happy/sad). The notion
that an individual's perceived sense of life meaning influences levels
of boredom whereas mood does not was translated into two specific
hypotheses: (1) participants in the low meaning condition would score
significantly higher on the measure of boredom than those in the high
meaning condition; and (2) participants in the happy mood and sad
mood conditions would not be significantly different on the measure
of boredom.
PARTICIPANTS AND PROCEDURE
Participants were 106 introductory psychology students who received
course credit for their participation. Data from four individuals was
removed due to failure to follow instructions, resulting in a final
sample size of 102. Participants were 73% female (n = 74) with a
mean age of 20.1 (SD = 3.3, range 18 to 41).

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FAHLMAN ET AL.

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Participants signed up anonymously for data collection sessions and were


unknown to each other. Data collection sessions were conducted in small
groups of two to six participants for approximately 50 to 60 minutes.
Random assignment was completed at the group level to one of the four
experimental conditions. The meaning manipulation elicited participants'
autobiographical memories in order to induce a temporary change in their
perceived level of life meaning. This particular manipulation was chosen
over two other possible approaches after it was shown to have a greater
effect on perceived levels of meaning in a pilot experiment (Fahlman, 2005).
Participants first read a sheet of paper with the following description of
meaning (adapted from Battista and Almond, 1973):
When we talk about someone having a sense of "meaning" in life, it
means they believe life has a certain significance to it, so they act
according to those beliefs. What a person believes to be meaningful can
vary though. For example, some people might believe that life is about
helping others so they try to do things that make a difference in the
world. Someone else might believe that life is about trying to be
satisfied, so they then try to be happy or to enjoy themselves. Others
might feel life is about achievement and success, so they try to make
money. Others might believe that the purpose of life is to serve God,
Allah, Gaia, or some kind of Higher Power or deity. There are many
ways people's lives can be meaningful. Having a sense of "meaning in
life" means that a person determines their goals and behaviour based on
the beliefs that they have about their life meaning and purpose. A person
who says their life is really meaningful is someone who spends their
time doing things that fit with those beliefs.
The researcher went through the definition with participants, and answered
their questions. Participants in the high meaning condition recalled a memory
of a time in their life that was particularly meaningful to them; participants in
the low meaning condition recalled a memory of a time in their life that was
meaningless (i.e., implying a negative valence, not a neutral one). Next,
participants spent several minutes in a guided visualization task in which
they were prompted to recall what they saw, how they felt, what they were
thinking, and who they were interacting with during the recalled incident.
They were told: "Take a few minutes to imagine

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

as vividly as possible that you are in this scenario again." Three


minutes were allowed for this task. Finally, participants were told:
"Take ten minutes or so to describe the situation in writing, and
include as many details as you can." Those in the mood conditions
followed an identical procedure, but recalled either a happy or a sad
memory. Dependent measures were administered immediately after
the manipulation in all conditions.5
MEASURES
Before the manipulation, participants completed measures of depression, self-esteem, and life meaning, in order to verify that randomization was successful and that the groups were not different on
key variables. Following the manipulation, participants in all
conditions responded to a series of questions used as manipulation
checks (meaning- and mood-related items, as well as items assessing
memory characteristics), as well as the dependent measure, state
boredom. Finally, participants responded to several "questions about
the experiment" which were used to determine whether the conditions
(meaning vs. mood) were more difficult to engage in, required more
effort, or were more challenging or interesting (thereby reducing
boredom).
Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE;
Rosenberg, 1965) consists of ten items measured on a 4-point scale.
The internal consistency has been reported to be .92, and the testretest reliability over two weeks .85 (Rosenberg, 1965; Wylie, 1974).
Self-esteem was chosen as an individual difference variable because it
has been found to be strongly related to meaning (Battista & Almond,
1973; Reker, 1977). Battista and Almond consider self-esteem to be a
necessary but insufficient condition for the development of positive
life regard (i.e., life meaning). Therefore, because individuals who
have pre-existing differences on level of self-esteem may
differentially react to the meaning manipulations, RSE was included
as an individual difference measure.
5. After completing the experiment, participants in the low meaning condition participated in
the high meaning induction in order to counteract any negative effects produced by the
manipulation; similarly, participants in the sad mood condition participated in the happy mood
manipulation.

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FAHLMAN ET AL.

325

Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. The Center for


Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD; Radloff, 1977) has
been described in Study la. A measure of depression was included
because previous research has indicated that depression is strongly
related to meaning, and because depression may impact the ability to
recall specific autobiographical memories (e.g., Moore, Watts, &
Williams, 1988; Williams & Dritschel, 1988).
Sense of Coherence Scale. Pre-manipulation levels of life meaning
were measured by the Sense of Coherence Scale (SOC; Antonovsky,
1987). According to Antonovsky (1987), 'sense of coherence' is the
extent to which individuals perceive life to be meaningful, manageable, and comprehensible. The scale consists of 13 items, each measured on a 7-point scale. The internal consistency has been reported to
range from .74 to .91 (Antonovsky, 1993; Hood, Beaudet, & Cat-lin,
1996). A test-retest reliability coefficient of .77 has been found after
six months, and .76 to .78 after a one-year period (Antonovsky, 1993).
This measure was included because participants' susceptibility to
having state-like perceptions of meaning altered may be influenced by
their pre-existing sense of life meaning.
Meaning Manipulation Check. The manipulation check for state
meaning included two questions(1) Right now, how strongly do you
feel that your life is meaningful? (7-point scale); and (2) Right now
how strongly do you feel that your life is meaningless? (7-point scale)
which were mixed among other filler questions not included in the
present analyses. After reverse scoring the second of these two items,
responses were added together to create a total state meaning score
(possible range 2 to 14).
Mood Manipulation Check. The manipulation check for mood was
based on responses to the item: "Please rate your current mood."
Responses were indicated on a 7-point scale where 1 = extremely
positive, 2 = positive, 3 = somewhat positive, 4 = neutral, 5 = somewhat negative, 6 = negative, and 7 = extremely negative.
Multidimensional State Boredom Scale. The Multidimensional State
Boredom Scale (MSBS) is measure of state boredom containing 24
items rated on a 7-point Likert scale (Fahlman, Mercer, Flora, &
Eastwood, 2008). Developed from phenomenological descriptions of
the experience of boredom, the MSBS has demonstrated good
construct validity, a strong factor structure, and state sensitivity. It

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

contains five subscales: Disengagement, Agitated Affect, Dysphoric


Affect, Inattention, and Time Perception, with alpha coefficients of .
87, .85, .86, .80, and .88, respectively; for the full scale, an alpha coefficient of .94 has been reported. Fahlman et al. demonstrated that the
MSBS was significantly correlated with the Boredom Proneness
Scale, and with key constructs such as depression, anxiety, anger,
impulsivity, and attention problems. Strong support for its 5-fac-tor
structure was found using structural equation modeling analyses;
furthermore, second-order factor analyses confirmed that the five
subscales are significantly related to a second-order "General
Boredom" factor, implying that MSBS total scores are meaningful.
Finally, the MSBS successfully distinguished between participants
who were induced into a state of boredom and those who were not,
demonstrating its state sensitivity. In the present study, only MSBS
total scores were utilized, for which the alpha coefficient was .93.
Memory Characteristics Questionnaire. The Memory Characteristics
Questionnaire (MCQ; Johnson, Foley, Suengas, & Raye, 1988) is a
self-report scale used to examine the phenomenal characteristics of
autobiographical memories recalled by participants in cognitive
psychology experiments (e.g., Arbuthnott, Geelen, & Kealy, 2002;
Johnson, 1988; Johnson et al., 1988; Suengas & Johnson, 1988). The
original version has 39 items rated on 7-point scale, which ask participants to rate recalled memories on several dimensions, such as
sensory detail or intensity of feelings. However, subscales can be
modified depending on the purposes of the research. In the present
study, the MCQ was included as a manipulation check. Specific
subscales included were Clarity, Sensory Characteristics, Affective
Tone, Intensity, and Frequency of Recollection (similar to Arbuthnott
et al., 2002).
Questions About the Experimental Tasks. Four questions about the
experimental tasks themselves were created to determine whether
participants found the tasks easier to engage in due to the content (i.e.,
meaning- versus mood-related memories). The first question asks
explicitly about the potential engaging quality of the task itself, apart
from the valence of the condition: "Although the memory/ paragraph
activities might have made you feel a certain way based on the
particular memory you recalled, when you think of the activities
themselves did you find them engaging (i.e., held your attention) or
boring?" (1 = extremely engaging, 4 = neutral; neither engaging

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FAHLMAN ET AL.

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TABLE 6. Study 2 Descriptive Statistics for Individual Difference Measures, by Condition


(N=102)
Condition
High Meaning

Low Meaning

High Mood

Low Mood

Mean

(SD)

Mean

(SD)

Mean

(SD)

Mean

(SD)

CESD

14.08

(6.24)

15.92

(6.76)

17.54

(8.40)

16.40

(8.63)

0.94

.43

RSE

18.85

(3.88)

19.36

(4.94)

18.81

(4.96)

18.92

(5.20)

0.07

.98

SOC

42.92

(7.40)

40.28

(8.82)

38.80

(9.53)

42.40

(9.26)

1.20

.31

Note. CESD = Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale; RSE = Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale;
SOC = Sense of Coherence Scale.

nor boring; 7 = extremely boring). The three additional questions


asked: (1) "How fully were you able to participate in the exercise in
this experiment?" (1 = not at all; 7 = totally able); (2) "Overall, how
boring were the activities in this experiment?" (1 = extremely
interesting, 2 = interesting, 3 = somewhat interesting, 4 = neutral, 5 =
somewhat boring, 6 = boring, 7 = extremely boring); and (3) "Overall,
how interesting were the activities in this experiment?" (1 = extremely
interesting, 2 = interesting, 3 = somewhat interesting, 4 = neutral, 5 =
somewhat uninteresting, 6 = uninteresting, 7 = extremely
uninteresting).
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCE MEASURES
The groups were not significantly different on the measures of selfesteem, depression, or life meaning (Table 6), suggesting that the
randomization of groups was successful.
MANIPULATION CHECKS
Participants successfully recalled either a meaningful, meaningless,
happy, or sad memory, depending upon experimental condition. In
terms of content, those in the happy memory condition described, for
example, vacation activities or positive moments with family

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

and friends. In contrast, those in the sad memory condition typically


described the loss of a friend, family member, or pet. In the meaning
conditions, the memory content was diverse. In the high meaning
condition, participants described achieving meaningful goals or
dreams (e.g., winning sports/dance competitions, graduation from
high school, acceptance to university), or events related to established
sources of meaning, such as religious experiences or intimate
relationships (e.g., sharing a deep emotional connection with a lover).
In the low meaning condition, participants described difficult events
involving value conflicts or a loss of coherence (e.g., betraying one's
culture by rejecting an arranged marriage), or events that were
confusing, emotionally overwhelming, and difficult to understand
their meaning (e.g., experiences of violence, abuse, or sudden illness).
With respect to the quantitative measures, the high meaning (M =
12.04, SD = 1.68) and low meaning (M = 10.96, SD = 2.65) conditions
were significantly different on the measure of state meaning, t(49) =
1.74, p = .09, one-tailed test, while the happy mood (M = 11.28, SD =
2.25) and sad mood (M = 11.00, SD = 2.33) conditions were not, r(48)
= 0.43, p = .67. On this measure, medium effect sizes were found in
the meaning condition (Cohen's d = .49, n2 = .06), in contrast to
negligible effect sizes in the mood condition (Cohen's d - .12, r\2 = .
004).
On the item assessing current mood, those in the high meaning
condition (M = 2.32, SD = 0.90) reported a significantly more positive
mood than those in the low meaning condition, M = 3.68, SD = 1.70;
t(48) = -3.53, p - .001. Similarly, those in the happy mood condition
(M = 2.48, SD = 0.%) reported a more positive mood than those in the
sad mood condition, M = 3.54, SD - 1.44; f(47) = -3.04, p - .004. This
represents a large effect in both the meaning (Cohen's d = 1.00, r|2 = .
19) and mood conditions (Cohen's d = .87, if = .16).
In sum, the meaning manipulation appeared to successfully change
perceptions of life meaning, while the mood manipulation did not
have such an effect; in addition, both the meaning and mood
manipulations appeared to impact mood, as expected.
Influence of Memory Characteristics. In order to determine whether
or not the qualities of the memories were inadvertently different in
other respects besides meaning or mood, an analysis was conducted
on subscales of the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire (MCQ).

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FAHLMAN ET AL.

329

The four conditions did not differ on the MCQ subscales Clarity,
Sensory Characteristics, Intensity, or Frequency of Recollection. As
expected, however, the groups differed on the Affective Tone
subscale, which measures the affective tone of the recalled memory
(i.e., positive or negative). There was a significant main effect for
condition, F(3, 98) = 223.40, p < .001. Using pair-wise comparisons
adjusted with a Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons, both
of the "high" conditions (High meaning: M = 12.39, SD = 2.23;
Happy mood: M = 13.15, SD = 1.35) were significantly higher on
Affective Tone than both of the low conditions respectively (Low
meaning: M = 3.40, SD = 1.47; Sad mood: M = 3.88, SD =1.94) and
vice versa (p < .001 for all comparisons). However, as would be expected, neither of the high conditions differed from one another (p = .
741) and neither of the low conditions differed from one another (p =
1.00). Furthermore, Affective Tone was not significantly correlated
with any of the other MCQ subscales. Taken together, these results
indicate that the content of the memories did not change the memory
characteristicsfor example, if happy memories had been clearer,
with more sensory characteristics, or had been recalled more
frequently than meaningless memories, these qualities may have
unintentionally altered the experimental manipulations. According to
these results, however, this was not the case.
Questions About the Experimental Tasks. In response to the first
question "Although the memory/paragraph activities might have made
you feel a certain way based on the particular memory you recalled,
when you think of the activities themselves did you find them
engaging (i.e., held your attention) or boring?", the groups were not
significantly different, F(3, 98) = 0.31, p = .82. In addition, the groups
did not differ on the question about how fully they were able to
participate in the task, F(3, 98) = 1.23, p - .30, how boring they
perceived the tasks to be, F(3, 98) = 0.79, p = .50), or how interesting
they perceived the tasks to be, F(3, 98) = 0.28, p = .84. These results
indicate that no condition was significantly more challenging,
engaging, or interesting than the others, despite the type of memory
recalled.

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

IMPACT ON BOREDOM
Both hypotheses regarding boredom were substantiated. Participants
in the low meaning condition (M = 273.00, SD = 58.79) reported
significantly higher levels of state boredom than those in the high
meaning condition, M = 237.69, SD = 63.80; f(49) = -2.05, p = .045),
whereas participants in the happy mood (M = 269.15, SD = 56.88) and
sad mood (M = 281.84, SD = 68.82) conditions were not significantly
different on the measure of state boredom, t(49) --0.72, p = .48). This
represents a medium-sized effect in the meaning condition (Cohen's d
- .60; n2 = .08) and a small effect on boredom in the mood condition
(Cohen's d = .20; r\2 = .01).
Thus, boredom was influenced by meaning as theoretically expected, but was minimally influenced by the mood manipulation
alone. This finding is consistent with existential theory and the results
of Study lb. With respect to causation, these findings suggest that
meaning is causally related to boredom more so than mood or
negative affect, since manipulating the level of meaning affected
participants' level of boredom, in contrast to manipulating the level of
mood, which did not significantly affect boredom ratings.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
The present investigation sought to clarify the relationship between
boredom and life meaning, and the role that depression and anxiety
play in this relationship. The findings of Study la suggested that
boredom is related to, yet psychometrically distinct from, life meaning
and negative affect. Study lb used hierarchical regression analyses to
investigate longitudinal relationships between boredom, life meaning,
depression, and anxiety. In particular, it was shown that life meaning
predicted the level of boredom three to eight weeks later, even when
initial boredom levels were controlled. The converse relationship was
also demonstratednamely, that the level of boredom predicted later
levels of life meaning, even when initial levels of life meaning were
controlled. The latter finding suggests that life meaning and boredom
may share a bidirectional causal relationship. Further, in Study lb,
neither depression nor anxiety significantly predicted meaning or
boredom across time, over and above

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FAHLMAN ET AL.

331

initial levels of life meaning or boredom. This finding suggests that


boredom and life meaning share a closer relationship with each other
than they do with depression or anxiety. In other words, although
depression and anxiety were both significantly related to boredom
when measured at one point in time, these relationships are no longer
significant when life meaning is taken into account. Study 2 involved
an experimental manipulation which demonstrated that changing
perceptions of life meaning caused predicted changes in boredom,
while a manipulation of mood (toward happy or sad) had a small,
nonsignificant impact on boredom levels. Collectively, the findings of
the three studies support the hypothesis that boredom and life
meaning are distinct yet correlated constructs. These findings also
support the hypothesis that changes in life meaning lead to changes in
boredom.
LIMITATIONS OF PRESENT RESEARCH
Several limitations of the present research should be noted. First, in
Study lb, the amount of time between re-testing was relatively short
and also variable across participants (i.e., three to eight weeks),
making it difficult to determine the strength of the effect of boredom
and life meaning on one another across time. Related to this issue,
participants were tested over a time period spanning several typical
"peaks and valleys" in the life of a student (e.g., exam periods,
changes in semester). Certainly, levels of anxiety, depression, etc.,
may have been impacted by such changes, and the time of year was
not controlled for in Study lb. Third, while Study 2 tested how
manipulating perceptions of life meaning impacted boredom, it did
not examine how manipulating boredom would impact perceptions of
life meaning. In order to conclude that boredom and life meaning
share a unidirectional causal relationship (i.e., lack of meaning causes
boredom and not vice versa), this additional step must be taken. Until
then, the two can be understood to have a bidirectional relationship.
Finally, the generalizability of the findings may be limited due to the
restricted age range of participants, and the use of an undergraduate
sample. Future research examining these issues with older participants
or other samples (e.g., clinical populations) would be valuable.

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LACK OF LIFE MEANING

CLINICAL AND APPLIED ISSUES


While depression and anxiety are both recognized as important
clinical issues, boredom is not currently recognized as such. Further,
because boredom can accompany depression and anxiety, it may be
overlooked in clinical situations, even though it is an important
concern. As described earlier, Drob and Bernard (1987) and Bargdill
(2000) presented case studies of individuals suffering from chronic
boredom. In another salient example, Maltsberger (2000) has
described a patient who was almost "bored to death"that is, his
experience of boredom was so insidious and pathological that he
attempted suicide twice, once in 1987 and once in 1997. He did not
consider himself depressed, and his psychiatrist reported that although
the man appeared dysphoric, depression would have been a somewhat
"forced" diagnosis. As described by the patient:
I feel like I'm not alive in this moment in time, as if I am a spectator to
life and to myself. I feel detached from others around me. I feel I lack a
sense of purpose, and completeness. Most of all, I feel extremely bored.
Bored of everythingwork, friends, hobbies, relationships, music,
reading, movies, bored all the time. . . . No matter what the activity
is it leaves me feeling unfulfilled. I'm bored of thinking, of talking, of
feeling bored with being bored. (Maltsberger, 2000, p. 84)
The distinction between boredom and depression has been discussed
in other clinical contexts as well. For example, boredom has been described as a source of distress which detracts from the quality of life
of cancer patients (Inman, Kirsh, and Passik, 2003; Passik et al., 2003).
These researchers demonstrated that boredom and spirituality (i.e., life
meaning) had a unique impact on quality of life, over and above levels
of depression (Inman, Kirsh, & Passik, 2003). Furthermore,
Theobald , Kirsh, Holtsclaw, Donaghy, & Passik (2003) discovered
that treating cancer patients with antidepressant medication rapidly
improved levels of depression, but did not significantly improve levels
of "overt boredom." The authors noted that "the problem of boredom
as a health care issue has been subsumed under research on other
complaints such as depression, apathy, or fatigue. While there are
many common elements. . . boredom appears to have enough unique
qualities to warrant a separate consideration" (Inman et al., 2003, p.
144).

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In fact, boredom has been shown to be related to clinical issues such


as binge eating (e.g., Stickney & Miltenberger, 1999), problem
gambling (e.g., Blaszczynski et al., 1990), alcohol and drug abuse
(e.g., Paulson, Coombs, & Richardson, 1990; Iso-Ahola & Crowley,
1991), and alexithymia (Eastwood, Cavaliere, Fahlman, & Eastwood,
2007). Moreover, it has been described as a relevant issue for clinical
populations, such as individuals with attention-deficit disorder (e.g.,
Diamond, 2005), those suffering from serious mental illnessin
particular schizophrenia (e.g., Laudet, Magura, Vo-gel, & Knight,
2004; McCormick, Funderburk, Lee, & Hale-Fought, 2005; Todman,
2003)and individuals with traumatic brain injury (e.g., Seel &
Kreutzer, 2003). In terms of applied scenarios, boredom has been
described as an issue related to work avoidance in students (e.g.,
Jarvis & Seifert, 2002), psychosocial development in college students
(Watt & Vodanovich, 1999), attention problems (e.g., Cheyne,
Carriere, & Smilek, 2006), job performance and satisfaction in adults
(e.g., Kass, Vodanovich, & Callender, 2001), satisfaction in marital
relationships (e.g., Reissman, Aron, & Bergen, 1993), and life
satisfaction in general (e.g., Farmer & Sundberg, 1986). Boredom can
also be an issue for other populations such as gifted children (e.g.,
Kanevsky & Keighley, 2003) or juvenile delinquents (e.g., Newberry
& Duncan, 2001). Clearly, boredom is a relevant issue distinct from
depression, with relevance in a broad range of clinical and applied
scenarios.
Finally, in all of the scenarios cited, life meaning may be an important contributing factor to the experience of boredom. If a lack of life
meaning can indeed lead to feelings of boredom, then life meaning is
an important issue to be explored by individuals dealing with clinical
or nonclinical types of boredom. However, because there are certainly
other causes of boredom which may be relevant, future research
should examine how issues of life meaning may or may not contribute
to the boredom-related problems reviewed.
THEORETICAL ISSUES
The claim that life meaning and boredom are causally related has
been suggested by qualitative studies (Bargdill, 2000; Drob & Bernard, 1987) and existential theorists (Frankl, 1959/1962/1984; Maddi, 1967,1970). The current findings represent the first quantitative,

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experimentally-controlled demonstration of the theoretically-expected


relationship between one's sense of life meaning and level of
boredom. Although the findings are consistent with previous work in
suggesting that changes in life meaning can lead to changes in
boredom, Study lb unexpectedly also suggested the converse relationship, namely that changes in boredom may lead to changes in life
meaning. This finding indicates that further empirical work and
theoretical refinement is necessary to fully understand or conceptualize the relationship between life meaning and boredom.
Based on the present findings, then, can it be concluded that lacking
meaning causes boredom? The longitudinal observation in Study lb
that boredom predicts life meaning and, conversely, that life meaning
predicts boredom raises the possibility that boredom and life meaning
might share a relationship of identity, in which one construct is simply
a way of describing the other from a different perspective, like two
sides of the same coin. However, taken as a whole, the present results
are inconsistent with the idea that these two variables share a
relationship of identity. First, the measurement model in Study la
demonstrated that the best fit to the data was a model in which
boredom and life meaning were distinct but correlated constructs.
Second, the longitudinal results of Study lb demonstrated that life
meaning at time one predicted changes in boredom at time two, and
vice versa. If life meaning at time one and boredom at time one were
essentially two measures of the same construct, the results of Study lb
would be impossiblethat is, controlling for boredom at time one
would have eliminated any variability in meaning at time one. It
would be highly informative for future studies to evaluate the impact
of manipulating boredom on an individuals' sense of life meaning. A
future study of this kind mirroring the approach taken in Study 2
would be useful in both replicating and extending the current findings.
If changing boredom did not impact meaning, it would suggest that
there is a unidirectional, causal relationship between life meaning and
boredom. On the other hand, if manipulating boredom did change
levels of life meaning, it would suggest a model of reciprocal
causation (i.e., similar to a positive feedback loop).
Another way to conceptualize the relationship between life meaning
and boredom that is consistent with the present findings is through a
dialectical-constructivist perspective (e.g., Greenberg & PascualLeone, 2001). Within such a framework, meaning is con-

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335

ceptualized as a higher-order, reflexive, meta-narrative process,


whereas affective or emotional states are conceptualized as more
basic, tacit schematic, even biological phenomena. Researchers in this
area have been explicitly concerned with the relation between basic
emotion processes and higher-order narrative processes (e.g., Angus,
Lewin, Bouffard, & Rotondi-Trevisan, 2004; Greenberg & Angus,
2004; Greenberg & Pascual-Leone, 2001). In their view, reflexive
self-narratives emerge from a continual process of symbolizing and
synthesizing information in awarenessinformation including
emotional experience and reactions (Greenberg, Rice, & Elliot, 1993).
Perhaps it could be said that a meta-narrative of reduced life meaning
manifests in the affective experience of boredom. In other words, in
that life meaning involves cognitive and motivational elements, it can
be said to be a kind of self-reflexive narrative regarding one's life, as
opposed to being simply an emotion or feeling (i.e., boredom). In this
sense, then, life meaning and boredom are not of the "same kind," and
it would be somewhat inaccurate to think of them in terms of billiardball-type causation. Still, what remains unmistakable, based on the
current research, is the highly contingent relationship between life
meaning and boredom. Although it is unclear whether the notion of
"causation" is the most appropriate way to conceptualize the
relationship, it is clear that a lack of life meaning is at least one major
source or trigger of the experience of boredom.
CONCLUSIONS
On the whole, boredom has not been thoroughly or adequately addressed by researchers or practitioners of psychology. One potential
reason is an attitude of indifference toward the subject"boredom"
sounds trivial, inconsequential, or simply uninteresting, and is not
studied or taken seriously as a result. However, boredom is associated
with serious psychological and physical health difficulties, and should
not be taken lightly or dismissed. The present research highlights the
importance of studying boredom in its own right as well as in relation
to life meaning and purpose.
Those who are in the role of parent, educator, mentor, therapist or
other type of caregiver ought to take seriously any concerns regarding
boredom voiced by a child, student, or client. In practice, the re-

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sponsibility for alleviating boredom is often laid solely at the feet of


the suffering individualan attitude which would be unthinkable with
respect to other experiences such as depression or anxiety. To assist
individuals who are experiencing boredomeither in clinical or
nonclinical contextsit may be important to target their sense of life
meaning, as it is clearly one important factor in producing feelings of
boredom. Through further examination and clarification of the
relationship between boredom and life meaning, psychologists will be
better equipped to prevent and to relieve this type of distress.
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