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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Could boredom be curable?

An elusive human annoyance may finally be yielding its secrets

You’re driving to work one morning when you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam. You’re sitting in math class, listening to your teacher explain the afternoon’s lesson. You’re labeling envelopes to send out party invitations, letter after letter after letter. What do these seemingly unrelated experiences share? They have the potential to be unbelievably boring.

Boredom is more than just one of life’s minor irritations. It has been implicated in drug use and alcoholism, problematic gambling and compulsive behavior—and has even been tied to potentially lethal errors in job execution. Bored nuclear military personnel perform less reliably than colleagues engaged in their work; bored airline pilots become more likely to rely heavily, and dangerously, on automated processes.

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