Study: Religiosity Reduces Boredom, Inhibiting The Search For Meaning And Purpose

Religious individuals tend to feel less bored, which in turn makes them less inclined to search for meaning, study shows.

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“What worries me about religion is that it teaches people to be satisfied with not understanding,” English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, author, and famous atheist Richard Dawkins said in a BBC documentary.

a new study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Emotion, to an extent echoes Dawkins’ sentiment.

Titled “Bored Like Hell: Religiosity Reduces Boredom and Tempers the Quest for Meaning,” the study was authored by Wijnand A. P. van Tilburg, Paul J. Maher, Andrew B. Moynihan, Dawn G. Martin, and Eric R. Igou.

The researchers conducted three separate studies with nearly 1,500 participants in total. The participants included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Agnostics, and Atheists.

Religiosity, the researchers hypothesize, makes people less likely to get bored. By doing that, religiosity inhibits the search for meaning and purpose.

Study author Wijnand A.P. van Tilburg of King’s College London told PsyPost the following.

“We looked at religiosity because religious people tend to describe their beliefs as offering them a sense of meaning in life. Besides that, religion is of course an incredibly widespread phenomenon worldwide and affects many people. So, we were interested if religiosity, a source of meaning in life for many, might prevent boredom.

“The research had a secondary, more subtle, but nonetheless interesting purpose: If boredom normally makes people search for new purpose or meaning, then could it be that religiosity, through reducing boredom, indirectly prevents people from doing so?”

Study participants were subjected to boring, mundane tasks. Across all three studies, conducted on religious and non-religious individuals, religious individuals experienced lower levels of boredom. They reported higher perceived meaning in life and feeling less motivated to search for meaning than non-religious individuals.

Non-religious individuals subjected to mundane tasks, however, reported higher levels of boredom, and they were also more likely to suggest that they want to do something of greater significance.

Religiosity, researchers concluded, tempers with the quest for meaning. Their findings suggest that, in situations where most people would feel bored, religious individuals are less inclined to seek meaningful alternatives.

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These findings are, according to van Tilburg, profound. “The finding that a seemingly minor, everyday life, and mundane experience as boredom connects two variables of such existential and cultural significance as religiosity and meaning in life is, in our view, profound,” he told PsyPost.

Religiosity is a complex, widespread phenomenon, which is why no single study can really address it, researchers wrote. Some religious people may focus on using religion as a guide through their lives, while others may focus on the social and community aspects of the religious experience.

One of the major caveats of this study is, researchers claim, the fact that they have not examined whether “the role of religiosity in reducing boredom depends on how people put their religion in practice.”

Furthermore, the question of differences across religions needs to be answered in future studies, van Tilburg’s team asserted.

This is not the first time for van Tilburg to study and experiment with boredom. In his opinion, boredom fulfills important psychological and social roles. Seemingly a trivial experience, boredom seems to fuel the desire for challenge and meaning.

Interestingly, according to professor van Tilburg’s latest study, boredom does not stir a desire for more meaningful activity in religious individuals.