Being bored may be more complex than previously thought. That is the conclusion of a new study, in which experts report their “discovery” of a new type of boredom. Aside from illuminating a new facet of the dreaded feeling, the findings may inspire new treatment strategies for depression and other psychiatric ailments.

Previous studies have generally recognized four different subtypes of boredom: indifferent boredom, calibrating boredom, searching boredom, and reactant boredom. These subtypes, which are differentiated by their degrees of arousal and aversion, cover most of the states and emotions we associate with boredom – uncertainty, restlessness, detachment, etc. In the new study, the authors sought to quantify the psychological impact of each of these subtypes.

To do this, the research team enrolled 143 German university and high school students in a survey. Over the course of a day, participants were asked to complete a series of digital questionnaires designed to assess various factors associated with ennui and tedium. The researchers then used the results to determine whether the participants’ individual boredom aligned with the hypothesized subtypes.

To their surprise, the results confirmed not only these four subtypes, but also the existence of a fifth – apathetic boredom. This subtype, which is characterized by a low degree of arousal and high degree of aversion, is just as jolly as it sounds: feelings associated with helplessness and depression combine to create the perfect soul-crushing storm. Alarmingly, 36 percent of participants reported frequent spells of this subtype, which the study authors believe to be closely related to major depressive disorder.

The findings also suggested that people rarely run the entire gamut of boredom. Instead, each individual appears to experience one particular type. “We therefore speculate that experiencing specific boredom types might, to some degree, be due to personality-specific dispositions,” said Thomas Goetz, boredom expert and lead author of the study.

Today, about one in 10 Americans report symptoms associated with depressive disorders. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), these symptoms include insomnia; overeating; thoughts of suicide; feelings of guilt and emptiness; loss of interest in activities and hobbies; fatigue; as well as various aches and pains. The average age of onset is 32. Hopefully, a more sophisticated understanding of boredom and everyday tedium will help psychiatrists develop new ways of diagnosing and treating these ailments.

Source: Goetz, T. et al (2013). Types of Boredom: An Experience Sampling Approach, Motivation and Emotion, DOI 10.1007/s11031-013-9385-y.