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Would you rather be bored or receive an electric shock?

KUOW Illustration/Kara McDermott

Some of us will do almost anything to avoid boredom. No, really — anything.

A University of Virginia study put a bunch of people in a room that was empty except for an electric shock machine. What they found was rather, well, shocking.

“People would rather shock themselves than just sit and be bored,” said Mary Mann, author of “Yawn: Adventures in Boredom.”

Mann’s definition of boredom is “restless irritability.”

“It’s an emotional signal that makes people aware that in their current situation, there’s a lack of purpose,” Mann said, referencing the social psychologist Wijnand van Tilburg.

As bleak as that may sound, boredom actually has a positive place in our lives.

“It helps us figure out what we would rather be doing, what we would like to be doing,” Mann said. 

For instance, it gives us books, television and public radio.

But even with the accessibility of diversion at our finger tips, Mann said it doesn’t seem like having a phone is keeping anyone from being bored. Mann calls some of the mindless activities that we engage in “busy bored” – when you’re doing a lot of things, but none of them are really engaging you.

Mann’s big takeaway is that boredom isn’t shameful. And you don’t need to be afraid of being boring.

“Push back against it!” Mann said. “Anything can seem boring, and anything can be interesting if you dig into it.”

Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.

Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012