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Scientists Surveyed What Makes You a Boring Person, And The Results Are Harsh

21 MARCH 2022

Although many of us are likely trying our best to be interesting, boring people are seemingly everywhere. Maybe it's the person who never finishes a story properly, or someone who just can't stop filling you in on their bird-watching 'adventures'.

 

A new paper has investigated what makes people appear boring, and how this impacts our perceptions in relation to boring people. To do this, researchers asked over 500 people in five different studies to rank the most stereotypically boring characteristics, hobbies, and jobs. 

"Unfortunately, some people are perceived as boring," the team, led by University of Essex psychology researcher Wijnand Van Tilburg, writes in their paper.

"We examined the stereotypical features of boring others by having people generate and then rate these [..] These results suggest that being stereotyped as a bore may come with substantially negative interpersonal consequences."

In the first two studies, which included a total of 463 people recruited via MTurk, the team asked participants to write down a list of boring features, and then rank them.

The volunteers classified data analysis, accounting, tax/insurance, cleaning, and banking as the five most boring jobs, while the most boring hobbies were sleeping (huh?), religion, watching TV, observing animals, and doing math (poor mathematicians!).

When asked about the characteristics of stereotypical bores, people nominated attributes like having no interests, no sense of humor, being unopinionated, or a bit of a complainer.

 

"The more typical the features of stereotypical boringness described a person, the more the person was perceived as boring," the team writes.

"Furthermore, and important for the social consequences of such perception, stereotypical boringness affected perceptions of interpersonal warmth and competence."

While it's all a bit fun to think up the most boring people imaginable, those that see themselves in the above traits might actually be getting the rough end of the stick in social situations.

In the next two studies the team undertook, when people were presented with descriptions of imaginary people according to the 'boring characteristics' found in the first study (including adjectives such as "uneducated" or "has a monotonous voice"), the bores were seen as lacking warmth and competence, and were socially avoided.

Even worse, in the last study, when asked how much they'd need to be financially compensated for spending time with a 'stereotypical bore' described in a vignette, participants nominated significant sums of money compared to vignettes of less boring people.

"Perceptions can change, but people may not take time to speak to those with 'boring' jobs and hobbies, instead choosing to avoid them," said Van Tilburg.

 

"They don't get a chance to prove people wrong and break these negative stereotypes."

This is a relatively small study, and the majority of participants lived in the United States, so it's likely that around the world different jobs, hobbies, and characteristics might be classed as boring.

But this study is one of the first to investigate the 'boring people' stereotype across multiple domains, and having this information is important to try and break those stereotypes down.

For example, the team questions why boring people were also seen as incompetent by the study participants, despite these attributes being unrelated. 

"I would have thought that accountants would be seen as boring, but effective and the perfect person to do a good job on your tax return," said Van Tilburg.

"The truth of the matter is people like bankers and accountants are highly capable and have power in society – perhaps we should try not to upset them and stereotype them as boring!"

The research has been published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.