Idle hands can indeed be the devil’s playthings, if the results of a new study are to be believed. 

While bored people tend to eventually change up their routines to avoid boredom, not everyone starts taking drugs, gambling and breaking the rules for fun.

But there’s a strong link between an overwhelming urge to avoid boredom and “maladaptive behaviour”, researchers from the University of Konstanz say. 

That includes  “unhealthy behaviours like emotional eating, smoking, drug-taking and alcohol consumption”, and refraining from”healthy behaviours like physical activity or complying with social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“Functional accounts of boredom propose that boredom serves as an impartial signal to change something about the current situation, which should give rise to adaptive and maladaptive behaviour alike,” the study, published in Royal Society Open Science, says.

“This seemingly contrasts with research on boredom proneness, which has overwhelmingly shown associations with maladaptive behaviour.”

To find out why, researchers dug into the personalities of more than 603 people. While the expected correlation between boredom and bad behaviour was found, they discovered it’s strongest for people with “the tendency to experience boredom frequently and intensely and to perceive life as boring”.

People who don’t get bored easily, when they do, are better able to adopt positive behaviours to get out of it – such as “engaging in physical activity long enough to work up a sweat” and ” being friendly towards others”.

“Our findings provide novel evidence for functional accounts of boredom from an individual difference perspective, cautioning against a shallow view of boredom as being associated with purely maladaptive behaviour.”