Researching Boring People

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By Michael Gregson

It’s official. I am interesting. But accountants are boring. It’s not just me saying it either. 

Scientists at the University of Essex in Colchester, England, agree. They asked more than 500 people across five different experiments about the careers and hobbies they considered the most boring and what characteristics they associated with people who did those jobs. The study was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in March. 

They first asked participants to list the occupations, hobbies and characteristics they deemed to be most boring. People working in data analysis, accounting, tax/insurance cleaning, and banking were listed as having the most boring professions. 

Sleeping, religion, TV, watching animals, and mathematics, were seen to be the five most boring hobbies, by participants. Though personally, I enjoy a good snooze, often in front of the TV.

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

In two more studies the team undertook, when people were presented with descriptions of imaginary people according to their 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 were socially avoided. 

Even worse, in another study, when asked how much they’d need to be financially compensated for spending time with a stereotypical bore, participants wanted significant  sums of money. 

Finance was overwhelmingly tagged as the world’s most boring industry, with finance-associated positions occupying four of the top five slots on the ‘most boring’ list. The people occupying those ‘boring’ jobs were also not seen as competent, according to the report, which surprised at least one of the study’s authors.

“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,” Wijnand Van Tilburg, a study co-author and senior lecturer in the university’s psychology department, said in a statement.

Tilburg said that stereotypically ‘boring people’ are generally disliked, and often avoided by the people around them, largely due to unfair preconceived notions.

Perceptions of people can certainly change over time, but people labelled as ‘boring’ don’t often get a chance to prove the stereotypes wrong, Tilburg said. “The very fact that people choose to avoid them can lead to social ostracization and increase loneliness, leading to a really negative impact on their lives,” he said.

How a person is seen is likely to depend on the context, and by whom they’re being perceived. As Tilburg highlights: “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!” 

Tilburg said he launched the study to explore stigmas around boredom, and how it can impact the way humans perceive each other: “The irony is studying boredom is actually very interesting and has many real-life impacts.”

Of course, when you undertake this kind of research, you also have to find the opposite types. So the study lists actors, scientist and journalists like me as the ‘least boring’ professions. You can’t argue with science can you? 

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. 

Social scientists have long been fascinated with the concept of boredom. Although it can have some supposed benefits for creativity and productivity, when it comes to careers, many people tend to fear being bored. Even worse, they fear being labelled a bore by others.

So if you want to check whether you are boring or interesting, here’s the full list compiled by the researchers at the University of Essex:

The top five most boring jobs

1.) Data Analysis

2.) Accounting

3.) Tax/insurance

4.) Cleaning

5.) Banking

The top five most exciting jobs

1.) Performing arts

2.) Science

3.) Journalism

4.) Health professional

5.) Teaching

The top five most boring hobbies

1.) Sleeping

2.) Religion

3.) Watching TV

4.) Observing animals

5.) Mathematics