Boredom, politics combine to make conservatives less likely to follow COVID guidelines

WATERLOO, Ontario — When Americans look back on 2020, many will likely realize two things: the country is aggressively split down the middle politically and living in a coronavirus quarantine can be an extremely boring situation. Now, a new study finds those who bore easily and lean conservative in their political beliefs are much more likely to disregard COVID health protocols.

Although pandemic safety regulations are finally fading as vaccinations continue, many states are still imposing strict limits on public gatherings and other activities. Researchers from the University of Waterloo say, even before the development of a COVID vaccine, many viewed government mandates on wearing face masks and in-person gatherings as an attack on their rights and freedoms.

“Many public-health measures such as wearing a mask or getting a vaccine have become highly politicized,” says professor of psychology James Danckert in a university release. “People who find these measures a threat to their identity, and who suffer from boredom a lot, find breaking the rules helps them re-establish a sense of meaning and identity. Boredom threatens our need to make meaning out of life and some things such as politics can strengthen our sense of identity and meaning.”

Study authors add that previous reports have also found a link between boredom and ignoring social distancing guidelines however, this study finds the connection is stronger in those who are politically conservative.

COVID shaming doesn’t win over the public

Researchers surveyed over 900 people, asking each a series of questions about boredom, their political ideology, and adhering to public health measures during the pandemic. The team then used a number of statistical analysis techniques to help them dig deeper into the links between all these different factor. This revealed the link between conservative thinking and higher levels of boredom.

Notably, researchers also find a common flaw in the way public health officials and governments are dealing with citizens who don’t want to comply with COVID guidelines. Instead of focusing the messaging on what people cannot do during the pandemic, study authors say officials should be painting a more positive picture of what people are still free to do. Specifically, the team finds COVID messaging which tries to shame people into obeying safety guidelines actually backfires.

“Many of the restrictions have become heavily politicized and much of the messaging from governments has focused on personal responsibility,” Danckert explains. “But this can become finger pointing and blaming and most of us recoil from that. What we need is to promote our shared values – the things we all have in common and the positive things we can get back if we all pull together.”

“It can be difficult for some people to cope with boredom and that can have serious consequences for an individual and for society at large. Boredom is not a trivial experience – it’s worth paying attention to it,” the researcher concludes.

The team’s findings appear in the journal Motivation and Emotion.

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