Looking for inspiration in life? Beware of political radicalisation

  • IANS, London
  • Updated: Jul 08, 2016 16:18 IST
Boredom makes people seek engagements that are challenging, exciting, and that offer a sense of purpose. Political ideologies can aid this existential quest, say researchers. (Shutterstock)

Explaining the reason behind the increasing outrage, intolerance and pseudo-activism on social media, a new study suggests that it is boredom that makes us develop politically extreme opinions in a time.

Boredom may be contributing to a widening of political views among voters, according to researchers from King’s College London and the University of Limerick.

“Boredom puts people on edge. It makes them seek engagements that are challenging, exciting, and that offer a sense of purpose. Political ideologies can aid this existential quest,” said Dr Wijnand van Tilburg from King’s College London.

Boredom motivates people to alter their situation and fosters the engagement in activities that seem more meaningful than those currently at hand, he added.

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Published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, the findings are based on one experiment and two scientific surveys carried out in the Republic of Ireland.

In their initial experiment, the researchers recruited 97 people from a university campus.

The participants first indicated their political orientation (whether they considered themselves liberal or conservative) before being randomly assigned to complete either a task deemed to be highly boring or a comparatively less boring task.

Those assigned to the high boredom group transcribed 10 references about concrete mixing, while those assigned to the low boredom group only had to transcribe two of these references.

After completing the boring tasks, the researchers asked the participants to describe their political orientation once again.

Pseudo-activism on social media is on an all-time high. (Shutterstock)

However, this time the participants indicated their political orientation on a seven-point scale.

The researchers found that liberals in the low boredom group were more moderate in their political orientation, compared to liberals in the high boredom group.

A similar trend was found for conservatives, though it was not statistically significant as there were only 26 politically right-wing participants, which reduced the study’s statistical power.

The study authors also conducted a survey of 859 people living in Ireland and found that people who were easily bored tended to endorse more extreme political views.

Another survey of 300 people found that being prone to boredom was associated with searching for meaning in life, which was in turn associated with political extremism.

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The authors suggest that adopting a more extreme political ideology is one way that people re-inject meaningfulness into a boring situation.

“These studies indicate 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,” noted Dr Eric Igou from University of Limerick.

The implications of these findings are obvious.

“Possibly politically radicalised 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,” the authors pointed out.

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