In a quiet, darkened lecture room, you begin a frustrating fight against fatigue. The overhead projector hums, and you cannot concentrate on the slides. You stop absorbing information and doodle mindlessly. The professor lost you eons ago. You are bored.
Virtually everyone gets bored once in a while. Most of us chalk it up to a dull environment. "The most common way to define boredom in Western culture is having nothing to do," says psychologist Stephen Vodanovich of the University of West Florida. And indeed, early research into the effects of boredom focused on people forced to perform monotonous tasks, such as working a factory assembly line.