March 29, 2022 — Apologies to anyone who spends their weekends birdwatching or doing math for fun. They are among those people who are supposed to be boring, based on stereotypes about what they do for work or how they spend their free time, new research reveals.
Researchers surveyed more than 500 people across five related experiments to identify what people perceive to be the most boring jobs, traits, and hobbies. They also signal how we could all be missing out on spending as little time as possible with our tax, accountant or financial adviser outside of work.
People who work in banking, finance, accounting, data analysis and cleaning top the survey’s most boring list, published earlier this month in Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychology.
Sleeping, worshiping, watching TV, watching animals, and spending free time on math were the most boring stereotypical hobbies and activities. The “animal watching” group includes people who watch birds or study ants.
On the other hand, the five most exciting jobs, in order, were in performing arts, science, journalism, health professions and teaching.
The researchers also looked at the likelihood of people avoiding spending time with stereotypical idiots.
“Are people stereotyped as boring avoided, if possible? Our current research shows this is likely,” says Wijnand AP Van Tilburg, PhD, one of the researchers who conducted the study.
Beyond specific traits and stereotypes, Van Tilburg and his colleagues found that boring people are viewed as lacking in skill and warmth.
“To our surprise, it seems they are viewed as both hostile and incompetent,” says Van Tilburg, an experimental social psychologist at the University of Essex in the UK.
What qualities do people most often attribute to boring people? Along with being ‘boring’, ‘dry’, ‘bland’ and ‘uninteresting’, common stereotypes include thinking that someone who is probably boring will have no sense of humor, lack opinions or will complain.
Respondents were also more likely to place boring people in cities and small towns rather than large metropolitan areas.
A vicious circle ?
What is the possible harm of relying on boring stereotypes? If people are stereotyped as boring solely because of their occupations and hobbies, “this suggests that they will experience the negative consequences associated with being a stereotypically boring person – even when others don’t have didn’t actually interact with them,” says Van Tilburg.
“Having a stereotypically boring profession or hobby can come with the inability to prove biased perceivers wrong,” he says.
It is therefore important to make distinctions between stereotypes and realities, says Van Tilburg. “Those who have hobbies or occupations that are stereotypically boring, of course, don’t have to be boring.”
Mark Leary, PhD, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, agrees. “The research was really looking at stereotypes about the types of people who do certain jobs, have certain hobbies and live in certain places — not boring people per se,” he says.
Leary points out that few people encounter bankers, tax professionals and other people perceived as the most boring outside of a professional setting.
“When we have interactions with data analysts, accountants, insurance agents and bankers, for example, those interactions are often boring not because people are boring, but rather because the context is not not interesting.”
To overcome preconceptions, “the best advice might be to get people to try to separate people from their roles when forming impressions of them.”
“We have to recognize that many of our interactions with other people are tied to particular roles and topics and therefore don’t reveal much about other people themselves,” says Leary. “Maybe my accountant is the life of the party in other settings.”
Dollars to avoid the dull?
The researchers also found that as a person’s perception of boredom increased, people were more likely to say they would avoid them.
To find a way to measure this avoidance, they asked study participants how much money they should be paid to take care of a perceived boredom for 1 to 7 days. The payments people said they would need varied depending on whether their boredom was perceived to be low, medium, or high.
For example, it would take them an average of $50 to spend a day with a very boring person. This amount would double to $100 for spending almost 4 days in their company, and up to $230 for the week.
Leary says boredom occurs when people try to pay attention to an experience or event. This means boredom goes beyond mere disinterest or trying to pay attention to someone who isn’t “intrinsically captivating.” When it takes more brain power to pay attention, you’ll perceive the experience as even more boring.
“Perhaps the best way to see if other people are really boring is to talk about interesting things and see how they react,” says Leary. “But be careful: topics that you think spark interesting conversations may be boring to others.”