Scientists Probe What Makes You Boring, and the Results Are Stark
Although many of us probably do our best to be interesting, boring people are seemingly everywhere. Maybe it’s the person who never ends a story correctly, or someone who just can’t stop telling you about their birding “adventures”.
A new article has investigated what makes people boring and how it affects our perceptions of boring people. To do this, the researchers asked more than 500 people in five different studies to rank the most stereotypical traits, hobbies and jobs.
“Unfortunately, some people are seen as boring,” the team, led by University of Essex psychology researcher Wijnand Van Tilburg, wrote in their paper.
“We looked at stereotypical characteristics of annoying others by asking people to generate and then rate these [..] These findings suggest that being stereotyped as boring can have substantially negative interpersonal consequences.”
In the first two studies, which included a total of 463 people recruited through MTurk, the team asked participants to write down a list of annoying features and then rank them.
Volunteers ranked data analysis, accounting, tax/insurance, cleaning and banking as the top five most boring jobs, while the most boring hobbies were sleeping (huh?), religion , television, animal observation and mathematics (poor mathematicians! ).
When asked about characteristics of stereotypical bores, people named attributes like having no interests, no sense of humor, being opinionless, or a bit of a complainer.
“The more stereotypical boredom characteristics described a person, the more the person was perceived as boring,” the team wrote.
“Additionally, and important to the social consequences of such perception, stereotyped boredom affected perceptions of warmth and interpersonal competence.”
While it’s kind of fun to imagine the dullest people imaginable, those who see themselves in the above traits might actually get roughed up in social situations.
In the next two studies the team undertook, when people were presented with descriptions of imaginary people according to the “annoying characteristics” found in the first study (including adjectives such as “uneducated” or “has a monotonous voice”), the boring ones were seen as lacking in warmth and competence, and socially shunned.
Worse still, in the latest study, when asked how much they would need to be financially compensated for spending time with a “stereotypical annoying” depicted in a vignette, participants named large sums compared to the vignettes of less boring people.
“Perceptions may change, but people may not take the time to talk to those who have ‘boring’ jobs and hobbies, choosing instead to avoid them,” Van Tilburg said.
“They don’t get the chance to prove people wrong and break those negative stereotypes.”
This is a relatively small study and the majority of participants lived in the United States. So it is likely that around the world different jobs, hobbies and characteristics can be considered boring.
But this study is one of the first to investigate the stereotype of ‘boring people’ in multiple areas, and it’s important to have this information to try to break down these stereotypes.
For example, the team wonders why boring people were also considered incompetent by study participants, when these attributes were unrelated.
“I would have thought accountants would be seen as boring, but efficient and the perfect person to do a good job on your tax return,” Van Tilburg said.
“The truth is that people like bankers and accountants are very capable and have power in society – maybe we should try not to upset them and stereotype them as boring!”
The research was published in the Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychology.