How Boredom Can Lead to Political Extremism

June 29th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

We all get bored. I'm bored right now. See? And now I'm a political extremist.


OK, bad joke. But there's a kernel of truth here: Boredom is one of the factors that fuels radical political ideologies, according to a new study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

A team of researchers at King's College London and the University of Limerick conducted an experiment and a couple of surveys to determine how and why boredom can result in the formation of extreme political views. They found that boredom is associated with a sense of meaninglessness in life, which leads some people to attach themselves to extreme political orientations.

"Boredom motivates people to alter their situation and fosters the engagement in activities that seem more meaningful than those currently at hand," the researchers wrote. In this way, they're able to "reinject meaningfulness in their lives."


The study is a follow-up to the researchers' 2013 study, which found that boredom causes individuals to pursue meaning in one form or another. It was an abstract conclusion that led them to the theory that political extremism might serve as an effective source of meaning for bored individuals.To test the theory, the researchers conducted one experiment and analyzed two scientific surveys, PsyPost reported.

The experiment involved 97 university students in Ireland. Researchers first asked the students to identify their political affiliations, then split them into two groups. They asked both groups to perform a tedious task — transcribing references about concrete mixing. One group got 10 references to transcribe; the other only two. After they completed the tasks, researchers asked study participants to identify their political orientation again and rank it on a seven-point scale.

The group that had the more boring task rated themselves as more politically extreme than those in the group that had the less boring task. Interestingly, this effect only seemed to apply to liberals, but there were fewer conservatives included in the survey, which could account for the disparity.

To support the findings, the researchers also conducted two surveys. One survey of 859 people in Ireland showed that those who reported being easily bored subscribed to more extreme political views. Another survey of 300 people also reinforced the idea that boredom motivated individuals to seek out meaningfulness, which can translate into political extremism.


"These studies show that political views are, in part, based on boredom and the need to counteract these negative, existential experiences with ideologies that seem to provide meaning in life," Eric Igou, co-author of the study, said in a press release. "The implications of these findings are obvious. Possibly politically radicalized individuals and groups are, at least to some degree, driven by boredom experiences in their everyday lives as an attempt to make life seem more meaningful."

Boredom is not the only factor driving extremism, of course. Other studies in the past have linked various social and economic conditions to political extremism. But the new study offers an interesting contribution to the scientific literature of political extremism.

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