AirTalk®

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The importance of spacing out: What happens to the brain when we’re never bored

by AirTalk®

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Courtney Cranch tends bar at The Red Hen in Washington, D.C., where she estimates at least half her customers have smartphones out at mealtime. Elise Hu/NPR

Let’s face it: we love our smartphones. Maybe the only thing we love more than the smartphone itself is checking it when we get bored. In waiting rooms, on public transportation, even while we’re waiting in traffic, the minute we realize we’re not occupied, we start digging in our pockets and purses for our phone. A recent study done by a research group called Flurry found that Americans spend almost three hours a day on mobile devices. But does something get lost in translations when we don’t let our minds wander?

Boredom has been described as our brain’s “default mode.” When bored, the mind starts to wander, looking for stimulation. This is what causes us to daydream or zone out. But research suggests that this time spent being bored is actually valuable, because it allows our minds to make certain connections within our subconscious that we wouldn’t make if our brain was otherwise stimulated, say from browsing Twitter. Experiments have even shown that the brain comes up with its most creative ideas as a result of being bored.

Is there value in boredom? Have we lost track of what it means to be bored since the advent of smartphones? How are boredom and creativity related to one another, and can boredom beget creativity?

Guests:

Sandi Mann, Ph.D., Psychologist and boredom expert at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K.

Robert Bilder, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He’s also a clinical neuropsychologist at UCLA’s Stewart & Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital.

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