A major cause of boredom is lack of variety. Human beings appear to have a need for changes of stimulation. Imagine yourself confined to a small room with no windows, no telephone, no television set, no books to read, no interesting pictures on the wall, and no visitors. You probably would soon find yourself unbearably bored. As Robert S. Woodworth, a leading motivational theorist in the 1920s and 1930s, put it, "The eyes want to see and the ears want to hear." Various experiments in sensory isolation have demonstrated that if volunteer subjects are deprived of changes of stimulation, they will begin to have mild hallucinations. They may see spinning, glowing patterns or hear odd sounds.
Although a bored person may not be physically confined to a small room or systematically deprived of changes of stimulation, there are parallels. A young homemaker with three children and no car of her own commented, "I feel like I'm going stir crazy. Some days I'm so tired of it all I could scream." A woman who worked on an assembly line said, "When I go to work, I feel like I'm going to prison." If you perceive your life as greatly deficient in change of stimulation, if there is too much sameness, you are bound to be bored.
In some cases, unlike those cited above, boredom is associated with affluence. Galvin C. has no meaningful vocation, and he hires most personal services. He and his wife live well from the income of a large trust fund. He has time on his hands. He tries to cope with boredom by turning to popular entertainments such as luxury cruises and vacations at gambling resorts. Basically he is simply bored with life and knows it.
It is important to note that an interesting, varied environment is a matter of perception. Melanie thinks of a trip to an antique store as exciting and interesting. Paula, Melanie's sister, thinks of the same activity as boring. In contrast, Paula finds it stimulating and exciting to shop for clothes and look at the latest colours and styles. Melanie might as well be looking at gray uniforms. She takes no interest and is bored when she accompanies Paula.
A great deal of experimental evidence suggests that human beings have an inborn curiosity drive. This is true not only of human beings, but also of animals. Rats will actively explore areas of a maze that contain walls with vertical stripes and avoid areas that display gray walls without patterns. Apparently, as the rats run by the vertical stripes, they experience changes of visual stimulation. Infant's eye will spend more time gazing at a black-and-white checkerboard with nine squares than at a more simple one with only four squares. As the infant's eye scans the checkerboard, each shift from black to white or from white to black is a specific change of stimulation. The curiosity drive seeks as its goal changes of stimulation in the same way that the hunger drive seeks food. If the curiosity drive is not met adequately, boredom is the result.
Of course, in adult human beings, the curiosity drive is selective. This is because they have interests. Travel to faraway places will not satisfy the curiosity drive of an individual who finds it boring to leaf through the pages of an issue of National Geographic. An astrophysicist might be curious about the latest past data supporting the theory that there are black holes in space. The same information might bore someone else. However, both persons have a curiosity drive. And both persons need the kinds of changes of stimulation that will satisfy them.
A personal factor that may cause boredom is high intelligence. The psychoanalyst Eric Fromm said that the human being is the only creature that can be bored. This is not strictly speaking correct. On of the principal problems with the care of some animals in zoos is that they become bored. This is particularly true of relatively intelligent animals such as apes and bears. However, snakes and crocodiles do not appear to have a problem with boredom. Very bright individuals often take most of the information out of a stimulus before others do, and they are ready to move on when others are still interested. Informally, they get "saturated" with objects or other persons quickly and become bored with them.
A final factor in boredom is the "too much too soon" phenomenon. An individual is treated in youth like a prince or a princess. He or she has "had it all" or "seen it all". The good things of life are not earned but obtained with little or no effort. Boredom may set in at an early age. Diana Barrymore, daughter of the famous actor John Barrymore, wrote an autobiagraphy with the very title Too Much, Too Soon in which she describes a self-destructive life style arising in part from boredom. The motion picture actor Errol Flynn in his autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways portrays his life in a similar manner.