Boredom and the Brain

Too many students, especially at the secondary level, are bored. I know this is a really harsh statement, and I know there are a lot of reasons why this is the case, but the bottom line is that too many students are bored…and bored kids don’t learn.

In our new training, Jumpstart the Brain, we dive into how boredom affects the brain, and then strategies to re-engage the brain in instruction.

In this article, let’s take a look at what is happening in the brain when a person becomes bored.

What Research Says…

In a really interesting article out of Medical News Today, the author cites a study done by Perone and colleagues from Washington State University. 

To sum up the study, the researchers hooked up 54 young people to an EEG and had them do a tedious activity that induced boredom. What they found is that people responded to boredom in two different ways – either firing up their left frontal cortex or the right frontal cortex. The left frontal part fires up when an individual is looking for stimulation or distraction by thinking about something different. The right frontal cortex becomes more active with avoidance responses when an individual experiences negative emotions or anxiety.

Researchers had some interesting findings. Those who seemed prone to boredom on a regular basis seemed to fire up their right cortex. These people also seemed more apt to depression and anxiety based on the brain activity.

The researchers also thought that people who would be prone to boredom would have different wavelengths prior to the boring activity, however, this is not what they found. So in other words, it’s not the person – it’s the activity.

They also found that people who cope well with boredom fired up their left frontal cortex by thinking of other things  – daydreaming, brainstorming, rehearsing, or just having other thoughts. 

**Bottom line to educators is this – being in a state of boredom will not open up the brain to learning. One of two things will happen – the students’ left brain will fire up and their minds will go elsewhere, or their right brain will fire up and they will display avoidance behavior.

Boredom in the Classroom

We all know what avoidance behaviors look like. Depending on the age and personality of students, this may look like sleeping, hood on, asking to leave the class, scrolling on their phones, or sharpening a pencil or throwing trash away for the 10th time. This can also escalate to misbehavior in order to be forced to leave the classroom, or disruptive behavior to cause a scene.

And we all know what it looks like when a student’s left brain fires up when they are bored – staring out the window, drawing, chewing on a pen.

Either way, friend, learning is not happening. And if I’m being honest, another unfortunate part of this scenario is that the student whose right brain fired up will probably get in trouble.

So let’s make it a priority to engage our students’ brains. Brains are designed for curiosity and learning! Let’s tap into that!

For more information on ideas for re-engaging the brain, head to!

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