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Anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety – emotions that feel bad can be useful

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By Heather Lench

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Boredom appears to occur when someone’s current situation is not causing any other emotional response . . . researchers think that the benefit of boredom in situations where people are not responding emotionally is that it prompts making a change. If nothing in your current situation is worth responding to, the aversive experience of boredom can motivate you to seek new situations or change the way you’re thinking.

Compare and contrast, if you wish, recent research showing that school students are actually very bored during exams. The main causes cited were being both underchallenged and overchallenged during an exam. But also that test boredom was way higher when the exam itself had no personal relevance for the students. But that in most cases, a high level of test boredom had a marked negative effect on exam results.

They didn’t stop there. They also validated abundance hypothesis, wherein boredom deteriorates exam performance if students are overchallenged, because all mental resources would have to be allocated to completing the tasks; and that boredom as a result of being underchallenged, that resources are available in abundance for processing the tasks anyway.

Conclusion? Provides more evidence to the body of work showing generally that boredom has not only a detrimental effect on learning and performance but also on mental and physical health.

Educators, parents, and students should be informed about these findings, especially in light of the empirically unfounded but frequently communicated argument that boredom in school has its good sides. Boredom, especially related to tests, is often viewed as a nonexistent or “silent” emotion. Our research has shown that it is anything but “silent” [FNs omitted].

Journal of Ed Psych, August 2023 (Peer Reviewed; no conflicts disclosed). https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2023-95297-001.html .

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Negative emotions, even though they feel bad to experience, can motivate and prepare people for failure, challenges, threats and exploration.

Maybe so but consumerism and its pushers assume that superficial happiness is what we pursue - the fleeting happiness of a purchase - and so that is what we must fake. Emotions and feelings that are not congruent with that end can be pathologised and treated without ever asking if the failing system itself is a major cause of all this misery. I would even suggest that happiness is not what humans seek: it is much deeper than that and it is never going to be provided by capitalism/consumerism. In fact, if people could achieve lasting peace, love, wonder, beauty they would throw off the capitalist/consumerist totalitarianism. So, they must never be permitted to experience anything other than fleeting happiness.

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