[Proposal] Bored to run: Does induced state boredom facilitate avoidance learning


Boredom has been defined as “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in stimulative and satisfying activity.”1 State boredom, the moment-to-moment experience of boredom that can be brought about by unchallenging, monotonous, or repetitive situations,2,3,4 is distinct from trait boredom proneness, an individual’s susceptibility to experience state boredom.5,6 Boredom proneness has been associated with a wide range of maladaptive psychological features including poor impulse control,7 low self-awareness,8 dysregulated attention,9 and severe mental illness.10 State boredom is an inherently aversive experience and has been suggested to motivate avoidant behavior.1,11,12,13,14 No previous studies have attempted to manipulate state boredom as an aversive unconditioned stimulus (CS) within a classical learning paradigm, likely because boredom can usually be easily alleviated by changing one’s situation.15 However, research on boredom in academic settings, where students cannot leave class to engage in more rewarding activities, indicates that cognitive and behavioural avoidance strategies are common approaches to coping with boredom.16,17 According to classical learning theory, pairing state boredom, an inherently aversive experience, with a CS could lead to a conditioned avoidance response. Within the expectancy model of learning,18 inducing state boredom as an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) following the presentation of a CS could create an expectancy that presentation of the CS will be followed by an aversive experience, and this is expectancy could lead to a learned avoidance response.19 Non-life threatening aversive stimuli have been found to lead to learning in simple Pavlovian conditioning procedures.20 Further, learned avoidance behaviors in response to a CS can be expressed following simple associative conditioning with an aversive unconditioned stimulus (UCS).21 It therefore appears possible that a learned avoidance response could be elicited through manipulation of state boredom.



Five hundred adult participants screened for color vision deficiency will be monetarily compensated for their participation (see a priori power analysis below).


Participants will complete the experiment using the Gorilla.sc online experiment platform.22

Boredom Induction Task

State boredom will be induced using a modified Vowel Cancellation Task,23 in which participants are instructed to count the number of vowels contained in a series of 16 equal-length paragraphs presented against a white background. At the commencement of the task and at four-minute intervals throughout the task instructions will be presented to participants in writing. Participants in the experimental condition will have the instructions presented to them in a light purple text box (the CS), while participants in the experimental condition will be presented in a white text box. These colors were chosen because of their affective neutrality.24

Choice Task

Following the boredom induction, participants will be given the choice of selecting the next task to perform. The tasks will be presented in separate, side-by-side text boxes. The tasks will be substantially equivalent (i.e., recall random strings of odd or even numbers). One task description will be contained in a light purple text box (CS-concordant task), and the other in a green text box (CS-discordant task). Green was chosen for its affective neutrality.24 Both the positioning of the task descriptions (left or right) and the task contained within the light purple text box (odd or even numbers) will be counterbalanced across participants.


Boredom proneness will be measured using the Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS).25 Pre-experimental state boredom will be measured using the State Boredom Measure (SBM).6 Pre-experimental depressive symptoms will be measured using the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II).26


After consenting to participate in the study, participants will provide demographic information and complete the BPS, SBM, and BDI-II. Participants will then be randomly assigned to either the control group or the experimental group before completing the modified Vowel Cancellation Task. After completing the task, participants will complete a questionnaire as a check to ensure that the task successfully induced state boredom. All participants will then complete the Choice Task before being debriefed on the true purpose of the study.

Research Questions and Hypotheses

RQ1: Is it possible to elicit an avoidance response to a conditioned boredom cue?

H1: Participants in the experimental group will be significantly more likely to select the CS-discordant task.

RQ2: Does the strength of an avoidance response to a conditioned boredom cue depend on individual differences in boredom proneness?

H2: Within the experimental group, participants with higher levels of boredom proneness will be more likely to select the CS-discordant task.


Data Analysis Plan

Binomial logistic regression analysis will be conducted to assess the relative probabilities of the experimental group and control group selecting the CS-discordant task. Group membership (coded 0=control, 1=experimental) and BPS will be included as individual predictors, as well as in a two-way interaction. SBM and BDI-II scores will be included as predictors in the model to control for pre-randomization levels of state boredom and depressive symptoms.

Power Analysis

An a priori power analysis was conducted using G*Power.27 Previous studies assessing the effectiveness of conditioning tasks using dichotomous outcome data reported effects sizes (as odds ratios) ranging from 1.3:128 to over 2:1.29 Specifying a predicted odds ratio (discordant:concordant) of 1.6:1, probability of discordant response in the control group of 0.5, equal control and experimental group sizes, 𝛼 = .05 and power of 0.8, produced a required sample size of 459.

Commitment to Open Science

This proposed study has been pre-registered with the Open Science Framework (Pre-registration DOI: 10.17605/OSF.IO/BG87J). The proposed experiment built on the Gorilla.sc platform, including the Vowel Cancellation Task and Choice Task designed for the purpose of this study, are publicly available here. De-identified data will be made publicly available through the Open Science Framework repository following publication of study results. It is intended that the results of the study will be submitted for publication in a journal which, at the least, authorizes authors to publish preprints on Open Access platforms (e.g., PsyArXiv).

Budget and Grant Request

Total participant recruitment costs are estimated to be USD$3,335.00 (500 participants x $6.67/participant).