Boredom when it is severe and prolonged is torment to humans and can cause dangerous or criminal behaviour and depression. It has been little researched from a biological perspective to date and some believe boredom is unique to humans. However, Dr Charlotte Burn has recently published work suggesting that animals may suffer boredom too. The conceptual review in the journal Animal Behaviour shows that many animals will do almost anything to avoid monotony, even things they would normally dislike, such as eating food that makes them sick or pressing levers for very bright light. Three key aspects of boredom can be measured scientifically: avoidance of monotony, inability to maintain wakefulness, and trained behaviour indicating that time is perceived as ‘dragging’. Being able to scientifically study boredom is important to help develop and assess the effectiveness of environmental enrichment and other interventions to reduce animal boredom. It will also help us understand the causes of abnormal behaviour and cognitive deficits caused by barren environments and highly predictable routines in captive animals, and the causes of human problems that are triggered by boredom.
The paper has led to a short radio interview (http://www.scienceupdate.com/2017/08/bored-animals/) and an NPR news article (http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/08/10/542438808/dogs-and-pigs-get-bored-too).
The paper itself can be found as follows: Burn, C. C. (2017) Bestial boredom: a biological perspective on animal boredom and suggestions for its scientific investigation. Animal Behaviour 130: 141-151 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.06.006