Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Literature Review
Chapter 3 - Methods
Chapter 4 - Results
Chapter 5 - Discussion
Chapter 6 - Conclusions & Recommendations
Boredom Propensity Test
Aggression is a common characteristic of human behaviour, which has shaped and impacted societies, politics, cultures of nations and billions of people (Mitoma, 2014). Defined as a state of feeling bored (Oxford Dictionary, 2015), which itself is vague, there has been little research done to understand the relationship between boredom propensity and aggression. In fact, the most recent studies were completed in 1997 and 2004, justifying the need for further, more relevant, current research in regards to the subject.
Theories, such as Fenichel, (1951), suggest that boredom is the internal manifestation of anger, which indicate that there is a significant correlation between boredom and aggression. Considering the lack of agreement as to the definition of boredom, which it has been suggested by Melton & Schulenberg, (2009), is a contributing factor in the lack of research into boredom, the relationship between boredom and aggression is one which could provide insights and help define or adjust current proactive and reactive activities in wide variety of areas including work performance Bruursema, Kesler, & Spector, 2011), safe driving (Dahlen, Martin, Ragan, & Kuhlman, 2005), and relationships (Elpidorou, 2014), for example.
This correlational and cross sectional, quantitative research aimed to establish if there is a relationship between Boredom Propensity (BP) and Aggression Propensity (AP), in the general public, and used multivariate regression testing . Participants were volunteers (n = 102), recruited from social media, as well as professional and personal contacts, who completed the Boredom Propensity Test (Sundberg, & Farmer, n.d) and the Aggression Questionnaire, (Buss and Perry, 1992). Whilst not attempting to define the cause, results (independent of age or gender) indicated that there is a high moderate, positive correlation between BP and AP. Results also show that BP can be predictor of two specific aspects of aggression, Physical Aggression (PA) and Hostility (H); however, is less reliable in predicting verbal aggression (VA) and anger (A).
Keywords: Boredom propensity, aggression propensity, physical aggression, hostility, anger, verbal aggression, relationship, correlation
Total word count: 10,924 words
The author would like to thank the following people for their support, without which, this research would not have been possible:
Dr Alina Perez – University of Liverpool. For her wonderful guidance and support in the planning and approval for this research, as well as the analysis of data and the dissertation creation.
Research Participants – Including professional and social contacts of the author and the authors friends, who took time out of their own busy schedules to complete the questionnaires, from which the analysis and results for this research was possible.
My family – For their support and patience whilst I completed this MSc and dissertation, especially my wife who fought a harder battle over the same period and beat cancer.
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Generally, when people think of aggression, their initial thoughts are to associate it with crime and violence. Whilst aggression is correctly a factor in criminal behaviour and violent crime it is; however, also a personal characteristic of many people in society, which can have a diverse and significant effect on many behaviours. A person’s aggressive propensity can have implications on such areas as children’s performance at school, a person’s ability to successfully interact socially, safe driving, work performance and their general health. Violence is an issue, which creates significant problems and concerns in society. In the UK, for example, in 2013/2014, 4.8% of the populations were victims of some form of violent (aggressive) criminal behaviour, whilst 8.5% of women were the victim of some form of domestic abuse (Office for National Statistics, 2014). Domestic violence for example, is a major problem is most societies around the world, which causes significant issues to victims and families. Not only are actual victims of domestic violence the only victims, in fact, the wide spread impact of the health, behaviour and education of children, is just one example, which has been shown to be significantly affected by spousal domestic violence, (Padmanabhanunni & Edwards, 2014).
With such high rates of aggressive behaviour, the ability of law enforcement, health professionals, and governments, to understand, manage and subsequently reduce aggression in society will have a significant impact on many costly, publically funded programs, such as prisons, policing, and healthcare. In order to achieve this; however, it is essential that all factors which contribute to aggression, criminal and non-criminal, are understood, so that they can be tested, measured and managed. Whilst this research focused on the general public and not convicted violent offenders, the results support the need for this research to be extended to ascertain if boredom propensity has a relationship to the levels of violent behaviour in the criminal community.
Of the numerous studies into the theory of aggression, there has been a wide range of suggestions in regards to how aggression and aggressive behaviour manifests itself in different people. Beaver (2011), for example examined the impact that genetic and environmental influences (in essence the nature vs nurture argument) have on aggression and anti-social behaviour. Whilst focused on criminal behaviour (one implication of aggression), it suggested that it is a mixture, of either or both genetic factors and environmental influences, such as peer pressure, that contribute to aggression, violence and anti-social behaviour in adolescents. Similarly research by Hygen, Stenseng, Guzey, Belsky, Lydersen, & Wichstrom (2015) examined the impact that genetic and environmental, in this case, serious life events, had on a person’s propensity for aggression. They suggested that children who had increased serious life events and also had specific a gene, had an increased risk of violent and aggressive behaviour. Other triggers or contributing factors to aggression propensity include personality disorders as examined by Gilbert, Daffern, Talevski, and Ogloff (2015), which showed that increased aggression propensity was linked to more serious personality disorders. Whilst not the sole or even the most significant factor in aggressive behaviour, it supports suggestions that aggression is a multi-dimensional behaviour, which can be affected by a wide variety of internal and external factors of the individual. Whilst it is easier to link aggressive behaviour to criminal behaviour, aggression has a wide number of non-criminal implications, which if understood in the general population, may provide insights and help guide proactive and reactive programs to manage them. For example aggression has been shown to affect a person’s ability to show empathy (show sympathy or relate to another person), with higher aggressive traits leading to decreased empathetic responses, which in turn create social problems for the sufferer (Vachan, Lynam, & Johnson, 2013), such as the ability to seek and maintain effective employment or have long lasting, successful relationships.
Boredom is not necessarily a behaviour or trait of people that is often or commonly linked to, or considered, when examining aggression, both in the criminal and non-criminal context. However, one specific group of humans who provide clues to the possible relationship between boredom and aggression are children. Higher boredom in children has been shown to increase the risk of bullying at school as well being a strong factor in sibling’s aggression towards each other in the home (Nassem, 2012). A child’s inability to entertain itself has been shown to lead to problematic behaviours that impact schooling and social interaction success. When seeking to understand the relationship that boredom has to aggression and other human behaviours, it is relevant to note that boredom is a topic, which has seen little research in the social sciences over the past few years (Bengtsson, 2012). Considering that it could have implications on a number of behaviour issues in people, including aggression, the need to understand more clearly how boredom relates to many human behaviours is absolutely necessary. Boredom, as a term, is multifactorial and is still considered hard to define and is generally considered to be related to negative affect and attention. It is also considered a behaviour that causes a person to seek different, and at times more extreme ways to break feelings of monotony, and seek increased stimuli and arousal (Malkovsky, Merrifield, Goldberg, & Danckert, 2012). Understanding boredom and its relationship to general health and behavioural problems in the general public has been a topic of minimal research. For example, boredom has been shown to be a factor in a number of health issues, such as anxiety (Sommers, & Vodanvich, 2000), as well as criminal behaviour, Ferrell (2004). Fenichel (1951) suggested that boredom is a relevant factor in aggressive behaviour, as managing ones boredom, subsequently helps to manage personal tension, balance personal feelings of pleasure and displeasure and manage impulsive behaviour. It is further suggested that a person’s ‘inability to be stimulated’ (p351), can lead to frustration, which can manifest itself in aggression.
Boredom, and its causes are poorly understood (Martin, Sadlo, & Stew, 2006), which is attributed, it has been suggested, as a behaviour, often being misinterpreted as other personality traits such as impulsiveness and anger. With the diverse number of side effects or related behaviours that can manifest from increased BP, it is suggested that boredom can create increased distress, lethargy and restlessness. It is fair to assume, based on all the research that has been conducted into boredom and BP, and which has been reviewed during this dissertation, that more needs to be done to ascertain the causes, impacts and ways to manage boredom in people, the results of which, like the behaviour, would have diverse effects on many problems such as aggression, mental health and social interaction, for example. Interestingly, Gerritsen, Toplak, Sciaraffa, & Eastwood (2014) suggest that boredom and increased BP is caused by three factors, inattention, hyperactivity and executive dysfunction. They also note; however, that the levels of BP that a person suffers can change during their lives, based on environmental factors such as employment and children.
Considering a plethora of research and evidence to show that boredom is a contributing factor to many behaviours, as well as health issues, for example, there has been surprisingly minimal, specific, research conducted to understand the relationship between boredom propensity (BP) and aggression propensity (AP). With such gaps in research attention, and subsequently, a lack of detailed understanding in regards to the correlation between boredom and aggression, this could be a major gap which is leading to failure in identifying and proactively managing a key factor, which has a bearing on a person’s likelihood to commit violence related crimes, or their general ability to manage personal aggression problems.
Understanding the role that boredom propensity has on aggression in the general population (as this research does) could, subsequently be examined and replicated with specific groups of participants, such as violent offenders. If boredom propensity is shown to have a relationship to aggressive behaviour in violent offenders, this could lead to modifications to current proactive and reactive risk management and treatment programs, such as the HCR-20 Violence Risk Assessment Scheme (Douglas, Guy, Reeves, Fraser, & Weir, 2008) and the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG) (2006), both of which fail to test and; therefore, understand a persons’ propensity for boredom in the criminal population. With the identification of gaps in research relating to BP and AP, the aim of this study was to establish if there is a relationship between BP and AP in a wide group of non-related, adult (over 21) participants across the globe. The objectives of this study were to firstly establish if there is a relationship between BP and overall AP in the general public, and secondly to establish if BP can be a predictor of specific Aggression Characteristics (Physical, Verbal, Anger, & Hostility) in the general public. One question, which remains mostly unanswered in regards to boredom propensity, is how it can be caused or increased in people, and; subsequently, have a knock on affect to other, more serious behaviours, such as aggression. The ability to successfully understand and communicate boredoms’ relationship to other areas, such as aggression, may lead to further research, which seeks to answer this question in the future.
This research question sought to understand if there was a relationship between boredom propensity and aggression propensity in the general public with the aim of establishing if there is a relationship between boredom propensity and aggression propensity in the general public. The objectives of this research were firstly to establish if there is a relationship between Boredom Propensity and overall Aggression Propensity in the general public and secondly to establish if Boredom Propensity can be a predictor of specific Aggression Characteristics (Physical, Verbal, Anger, & Hostility) in the general public.
Two hypotheses were tested during this research. Hypothesis 1 (H) was that that there would be a relationship between BP and overall AP in the general public. The null hypothesis (Ho); therefore, was that there would be no relationship between BP and AP in the general public. Secondly, H was that BP would be a predictor of specific Aggression Characteristics (Physical, Verbal, Anger, & Hostility) in the general public. The null hypothesis (Ho); therefore, was that BP would not be a predictor of specific Aggression Characteristics in the general public.
Chapter 2 - Literature Review
There is a distinct lack of recent research in regards to the relationship between boredom and aggression, as seen by the age of previous research used and analysed in regards to BP and AP. From the limited research on the subject, the two most recent and relevant studies, (the most recent of these, 11 years ago), (Dahlen, Martin, Ragan, & Kuhlman, 2004) and (Rupp, & Vodanovich, 1997) conducted research in order to examine the relationship between BP and AP and suggested that increased BP in participants was related to a decreased ability to manage aggression. These studies; however, focused on one similar set of participants (students), from the same region and similar demographic backgrounds and cannot, subsequently, provide clear evidence of any correlation between BP and AP in the general public. Other research, whilst differing in approach and focus, is extremely relevant to this research as it examines a number of factors and relationships to either boredom and / or aggression. These studies, in their cumulative value, provide an understanding of two key factors; firstly that aggression and aggression propensity can be affected in individuals by a number of different personal and environmental factors, including such things as mental health and exposure to violence or ill treatment as a child. Boredom as well, has been researched and has shown to be related to aggression, as well as other personality traits, behaviours and addictions.
Whilst relevant research is analysed in the following paragraphs, it is essential that further research be conducted to gain a greater understanding if there is a correlation between BP and AP in a wider demographic of people, across a wider set of cultural backgrounds, in the general public. Establishing this could contribute to further research and the subsequent continued development of programs to identify possible indicators of future aggressive behaviour, in order to help prevent criminal behaviour, anti-social behaviour, relationship problems, and work performance, for example.
Rupp and Vodanovich (1997), and Dahlen, Martin, Ragan and Kuhlman (2004), are the most recent and relevant which conducted research to examine the link between boredom propensity and anger and aggression. This shows a gap in research relating to the understanding of the relationship between boredom propensity and aggression propensity. Whilst there is no evidence or information to suggest why there has been no more recent research on the subject, it supports the need for more current and relevant research to be completed. Both used the Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS) (Sundberg, & Farmer, n.d) and the Anger Regulation and Expression Scale (ARES) (DiGuiseppe, & Tafrate, 2013), which itself, is designed for younger persons, not adults. Whilst an explanation for using a different (albeit incorrect tool) for measuring aggression was not noted, the fact that a tool designed for young persons was used to measure aggression propensity in university students, could suggest that the results used to assess any possible correlation between boredom and aggression could be misleading.
Both studies used university student participants, to test the correlation between boredom and anger/aggression, with the latter study also extending the research to understand the correlation between impulsiveness and sensation seeking as variables between BPS and ARES. It also used the Aggression Questionnaire (AQ), (Buss, & Perry, 1992) to assess the level of aggressive traits in participants instead of the ARES. Both also identified that boredom propensity was a significant factor in the overall ARES scores of participants; however, both have reduced validity as they only used a specific demographic of society (university student participants), rather than a more diverse group of the general public to test the correlation.
The lack of recent research, in the past 11 years on the correlation between BP and AP, supports the need to more current and relevant research on the subject. Bengtsson, (2012), examined how young people cope with boredom in their daily routine whilst in secure care following criminal behaviour. Whilst different to this research, as its examines the role that boredom has on children, and not adults, the fact that it sought to understand the role that boredom plays on the behaviour of young offenders is; therefore, relevant, especially as its’ approach to understanding levels of boredom in participants, is different to the method used in this research. This study, rather than using the BPS, to understand boredom propensity, involved observing the participants behaviour, as well as formal and informal interviews with them. They identified that the boys used crime as a way to gain excitement and to escape boredom. Whilst relevant and useful to understand behavioural factors, which can be considered when linking boredom propensity to aggression traits, it was a qualitative study, with little empirical data to base findings onAs this study suggests that boredom was self-managed by young offenders through crime, it is fair to assume, and subsequently research, that boredom is related to aggression in adults in the general public.
Sommers and Vodanvich, (2000), (again one of the most recent) researched boredom propensity to understand its’ link to human physical health. They identified gaps in previous research, which failed to use a validated boredom proneness scale (such as the BPS) to subsequently link boredom to health issues, such as anxiety and depression. It identified that higher boredom propensity is a significant factor in symptoms of health issues and demonstrated that boredom goes beyond idleness and can impact the health of people, which in turn can lead to other issues, including criminality. They suggest that in particular, higher BP scores relate more closely to anxiety and depression, both factors, which can increase a person’s likelihood to behave violently or aggressively. They also suggest that higher BP is linked to narcissism and; therefore the ability to detect that behavioural problems, such as aggression, for example, is a problem that exists with them, instead of with others, whom they are more likely to blame. As this research shows a correlation between boredom and health issues, which are also linked to aggressive behaviour, it also supports the need for further research to understand if, as BP increases, so does aggression and in particular if characteristics of aggression could be predicted in persons with higher BP.
Culp (2006), examined the effect that boredom had on aggression and suggested that people with higher BP, tended to act more irresponsibly, were more introverted and had considerably less conscientiousness. They also suggest that higher BP correlated to behaviours of increased anger and aggression and a lack of humility. Ferrell (2004) discusses the link between boredom and criminal behaviour; however, instead of empirical research, seeks to expand on other research with a personal perspective on the subject. Like Bengtsson, (2012), it draws conclusions that boredom can be a significant factor in criminal behaviour; however, without the use the BPS, AQ or ARES, the results are more observational or clinical and have, subsequently, reduced validity. Given the age of these studies and a lack of more recent, similar research, a need to validate these findings with more effective and known methods (as this research does), is essential, especially so that subsequent justification can be made for BP testing in persons who are being treated for, or at risk of higher AP. Malkovsky, Merrifield, Goldberg and Danckert (2012), sought to understand the link between boredom and attention deficit hyperactivity, from which they identified two specific types of boredom, apathetic boredom - where persons suffer a lack of motivation to engage within their environment and agitated boredom - where persons’ suffer a lack of satisfaction in their surroundings and chose not to engage. This study helps to understand other relevant factors of boredom, and how they can manifest into differing human behaviours.
Research conducted by Gerritsen, Toplak, Sciaraffa, & Eastwood (2014), sought to understand the main causes of boredom in people. Whilst acknowledging that boredom is a poorly understood and researched topic, their results suggested that boredom was caused by inattention, hyperactivity, and executive dysfunction. They further suggested that hyperactivity, and executive dysfunction, were also good predictors of BP in participants, indicating a strong relationship between the variables. For executive dysfunction, which relates to lack of goal oriented task management, and procrastination, they suggested that BP was a major cause of these behaviours, which is interesting as they imply the actual direction of the relationship. Hyperactivity, as a state, is related to disconnection, which is corroborated, indirectly by previous noted studies which suggest that poor social interaction ability is another factor related to high BP. Impulsivity, whilst being a common variable of BP, was not, in this study shown to be a good predictor of BP. Whilst this study provides useful data to correlate BP to other behaviours, it does not provide any insight as to possible ways to manage high BP.
Martin, Sadlo, & Stew, (2006), researched to understand more generally what boredom is, which they acknowledged, was a poorly understood and analysed subject. This study links BP directly to personality traits and also sought to understand current programs to manage the behaviour. They suggested that there is a direct lack of focused treatment for boredom, which is seen as a sub-behaviour of other personality traits and behaviours, thus, preventing it from being treated as a separate area of concern. Whilst this study makes some big claims as to how boredom is caused, their analysis is based on interviews with a limited number of participants (n = 10) and fails to use any validated tests, such as the BPS to measure BP. For the gaps in this research, it does show that the direction, focus and approach to understanding BP are unclear.
In order to consider and examine the relationship between BP and AP, the review of other factors, which cause aggression, need to be assessed. Lee, Altschul, & Gershoff (2014), examined the affect that parental spanking had on children’s subsequent aggressive behaviour. They noted that whilst increased aggression of children was noted, it correlated with when there was greater or increased spanking by a child’s mother, and suggested that there was less correlation between spanking by a father and increased aggression. Interestingly, this research, did not test AP, as a variable (as it was related to spanking) and; however, used a child behaviour checklist (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2000), which was completed by the child’s parent/s and not the individual themselves. Whilst relevant, this form of assessment of a participants (child’s) aggression could be biased by the perceptions of the parent/s, who in fact model their own behaviour to the children (in the form of spanking), based on their own perceptions of their children’s behaviour. Increased validity of data may have been obtained if a more affective and transparent tool was used to measure childhood aggression, such as the ARES (DiGuiseppe, & Tafrate, 2013).
Similarly, Sengsavang; & Krettenauer (2015), sought to understand how childhood aggression affected their development of moral behaviours. Whilst this research did not examine the relationship between AP and BP, it has adequate relevance to this research as it provided further insights as to the role than aggression has on other human behaviours. One concern with this research was that like Achenbach & Rescorla, (2000), childhood aggression was not a self-assessment and instead relied on parental perceptions of their child’s feelings and behaviour, which are at risk of bias. Their results, suggest that increased aggression can be a factor in decreased moral behaviours and feelings, which demonstrates other negative factor associated with aggression and supports the need to understand other factors, which can lead to increased AP.
The link between personality traits and aggression is a relevant area of consideration, especially in light of the findings during this research. To understand the causes or factors, which have a close relationship to aggression, can increase understanding of how aggression is subsequently related to BP in the general public. Research by Lobbestael, Cima, & Lemmens (2015), showed that aggression is closely related to personality disorders, such as narcissism. They suggested that different personality disorders, led to varying types of aggression, which they categorised as reactive aggression (aggression following provocation, for example) and proactive aggression (the unprovoked show of violence against another person). For example, people with high anti-social traits are more likely show higher BP as well as proactive aggression, where there is little to no provocation. Evidence, based on research by Kamaluddin, Shariff, Othman, Ismail, & Saat (2014), which sought to identify which personality traits were more closely related to aggression characteristics, noted that physical aggression, anger and hostility all had a good correlation to specific personality traits, such as impulsive-impulse seeking; however, interestingly noted that verbal aggression, had less correlation to specific personality traits and was more common across a wider set of traits. It should be noted; however, that this research focused on male participants only, all of whom had been convicted for violence related offences; therefore, whilst useful, results may differ as they do not give a perspective on the relationship between aggression and personality traits in the general public.
Whilst seeking to understand the relationship that boredom has to other personal behaviours, the cause of boredom is quite unknown. Research, such as that by Mercer-Lynn, Bar, & Eastwood (2013), sought to examine the causes of boredom in people and focuses on two specific areas, personal traits and personality, as well as external, social factors. These are also known as ‘endogenous boredom’ (from within) and ‘reactive boredom’ (response to the environment) (p124). This research also used the Boredom Proneness Scale (Farmer, & Sundberg, 1986) to understand participants BP and sought to understand its relationship to sensation seeking, behavioural inhibition, and behavioural activation. They suggested that behavioural inhibition was more accurate at predicting BP in participants; however, did not expand adequately, or clearly enough to suggest why.
When considering the relationship between BP and AP, an understanding of previous research in regards to other effects of BP is necessary. As such, research by Dahlen, Martin, Ragan, & Kuhlman (2005), indicated that BP was a relevant factor in predicting aggressive driving traits, and that participants with higher BP were more likely to demonstrate aggressive driving and aggressive driver expression. Similarly, Bruursema, Kessler, & Spector (2011), note that people with higher BP are more likely to be more aggressive, and to have higher anger traits and anger scales. They also suggest that as well as displaying higher hostility and a lack honesty and humility; they have less ability to control personal anger. Whilst this study was primarily focused on the relationship between BP and work performance, they note relevant research and support, through their own research, that BP has a good correlation to aggression. BP was also shown by Chaney, & Blalock (2006) to be a contributing factor in specific male sexual behaviours, especially using the Internet to find sexual gratification through increased masturbation or to seek sexual encounters. This research compared participants BP, again using the BPS (Farmer & Sundberg, 1986) to understand its’ relationship to increased sexual behaviour on the Internet. In the findings, BP was found to positively correlate to Internet addiction and the use of the Internet to seek sexual release. They also suggested that people with higher BP were also less likely to be successful or comfortable in social settings and subsequently used the privacy of the Internet to engage with others. This research again supports the hypothesis that BP has an impact on personal behaviours (in this case social interaction, leading to an addiction) and justifies the need to examine other behaviours that are related to BP.
Other research; however, such as von Kampen (2015), makes no reference to boredom as a factor in aggressive behaviour in people, and suggests that other factors have a closer relationship to aggressive behaviour, such as personality traits, peer pressure and external influences. The fact that boredom propensity is not mentioned does not necessarily indicate that it does not have a relationship to aggression propensity; however, it does indicate a different perspective and opinion of the main causes of aggression. There are also other differing opinions as to the main causes of aggression such as McQuire, (2004), who suggests that violence on television can be major contributor to violence by children, or as adults as it is interpreted as real life behaviour and encourages people to behave in that way. This is supported by similar research, such as Fisher, Kohut, Di Gioacchino; & Federoff (2013), who suggest that increased exposure to violent or other extreme pornography was likely to desensitise people and increase their risk of violent behaviour. Whilst these are two factors which may contribute to and; subsequently, have a relationship with aggression, they do not rule out or suggest that boredom propensity is not, or does not, contribute to violent behaviour.
Buss and Perry (1992) developed the Aggression Questionnaire, (AQ), which measures participants’ disposition to act aggressively. Their study showed that it was a useful tool, with good validity, to measure aggression propensity in four areas, physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger and hostility. Whilst now (at the time of writing) the AQ is 25 years old, it has continually been validated and used as the best tool for understanding AP in participants with good reliability (.72 - .85) (Dahlen, Martin, Ragan and Kuhlman, 2004). The BPS also stands out as the most reliable method to understand BP in participants, (LePera, 2011) and is considered far more reliable and accurate than other tests for boredom propensity, such as the boredom susceptibility subscale, which is an aspect of Zuckerman’s (1990) sensation seeking questionnaire. Its’ use as the primary method to understand BP for other research, validates its use in this research and supports arguments that, whilst quite old, it is still the most appropriate.
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