“The Impact of Boredom on Men’s Attitudes to Risky Sexual Behaviours”

October 1, 2019

James M Flaherty Research Scholarship 2018/19 Visit Report

Name:                                 Dr Andrew B Moynihan
Home University:         University of Limerick, Ireland

Universities Visited:   York University (Host University); University of Guelph & University of Waterloo, Canada.

Title of Research:
The Impact of Boredom on Men’s Attitudes to Risky Sexual Behaviours

Field of Study:               Social & Behavioural Sciences: Psychology

Dates of Visit:                June 2019

Visit Details:

My host for this research visit was Prof. John D. Eastwood (York University). Prior to the visit, Prof. Eastwood and I corresponded via Skype and e-mail. Prof. Eastwood previously acted as the external examiner for my PhD viva voce examination. During our exchanges, we talked about my current research on existential approaches to boredom, men’s sexuality, as well as my other research topics relevant to my ICUF application (e.g., conformity to masculine gender norms). In preparation for the research visit, I sent Prof. Eastwood overviews of my research findings for further discussion when I arrived.

During our conversations, we discussed the role that self-awareness plays in boredom’s relationship with men’s sexuality, consistent with the existential framework I adapted for my PhD (Wisman, 2006). Prof. Eastwood and I noted that these variables have a complex relationship and merit further investigation. Prof. Eastwood noted that self-awareness consists of two components, regarding its relationship to boredom. The first component is known as self-directed attention. The second aspect is known as self-insight. Critically, whereas self-directed attention is associated with increased boredom, self-insight seems to be negatively correlated with boredom. As a result, Prof. Eastwood and his boredom lab at York University decided to conduct some pilot studies on boredom and self-awareness in anticipation of my visit.

Prof. Eastwood and I also initiated contact with other boredom researchers in Canada: Prof. James Danckert (University of Waterloo), Prof. Ian McGregor (University of Waterloo), and Prof. Ian Newby-Clark (University of Guelph).  Prof. Eastwood and I agreed to visit Prof. Newby-Clark at the University of Guelph during my stay. Prof. Eastwood also told me that he would be organising a symposium on boredom with Prof. Danckert at the ‘Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Science’ (CSBBCS) Annual Meeting at the University of Waterloo during my visit. My abstract to speak at this symposium was accepted. Prof. Danckert, Prof. McGregor, and I agreed to meet and talk further in Waterloo.

Dr Andrew Moynihan (left) with Prof John Eastwood (York University)

On June 4th, Prof. Eastwood and I met Prof. Newby-Clark at the University of Guelph. Prof. Newby-Clark has an active research programme on the contents and processes of daydreaming, as well as inappropriate sexual behaviours. We discussed how sexual fantasy may be one example of daydreaming in response to boredom. Furthermore, we noted that daydreaming and sexual fantasies may relate to mind-wandering (i.e., people’s awareness of their engagement with task unrelated concerns), a common outcome of boredom (Eastwood, Frischen, Fenske, & Smilek, 2012). Indeed, we also discussed how daydreaming might help people to deflect from negatively self-focused attention, as is the case regarding boredom. Prof. Newby-Clark also told me that some people with certain personality traits might be more prone to daydreaming and sexual fantasy (e.g., those open to new experiences). I also gave Prof. Newby-Clark an overview of my research findings. Among the comments I received was to include more behavioural tasks rather than self-report measures in future research. Critically, we also discussed the importance of developing distinct measures of boredom and meaninglessness in life to emphasise how they are distinct, yet strongly related concepts. This would have important implications for how I would approach my research.

University of Guelph:

Dr Andrew Moynihan (left) with Prof Ian Newby Clark (University of Guelph)

My talk at the CSBBCS symposium was attended by Prof. Danckert and Prof. McGregor.  Among the comments I received was that socio-economic status might be a variable that limits the effects of boredom. Also, the audience were interested in how boredom and meaninglessness in life are two distinct concepts. Prof. Danckert was also interested in how the theoretical framework I adapted in my research (Wisman, 2006) differs from traditional existential perspectives on boredom. In discussions with Prof. McGregor, I was advised to measure common sexual behaviours in modern society (e.g., pornography use) as a response to boredom for greater external validity. Prof. McGregor and I also discussed a complementary perspective on boredom and meaninglessness in life, concerning the ‘behavioural inhibition system’ (Gray, 1994). This framework refers to how people seek to withdraw from the self and upsetting circumstances such as boredom.

University of Waterloo:

On Tuesday June 11th, I gave an overview of my research to the Eastwood lab at York University. Other invited attendees included Prof. Ward Struthers who has research interests in social judgments and interactions. Following the presentation, the lab and I discussed how it would be expected that different explanatory mechanisms and boundary conditions might affect the relationship between boredom and men’s sexuality. Examples of relevant variables in this regard include self-esteem, different cultural norms, and objective self-awareness. We also discussed in which parts of my chosen theoretical model these effects occur. Again, the lab members recommended using psychometrically and conceptually distinct measures of boredom and meaninglessness in life in my research.

York University:

On Thursday June 13th, the Eastwood lab presented their pilot studies on boredom and selfawareness.  In their studies, they demonstrated a relationship between increased state boredom and increased state self-directed attention. They also demonstrated a link between poor selfinsight and high levels of state boredom. Following a discussion, the lab noted the importance of assessing the psychometric properties of their self-directed attention scale and its relationship to hedonic behaviours (e.g., men’s sexual behaviours) in future research.

Future Continuing Collaboration & Conclusion:

During my visit, Prof. Eastwood and I proposed two candidate models to explain the impact of boredom on men’s risky sexual behaviours. In line with comments from the Eastwood lab and CSBBCS attendees, we decided to initially develop distinct measures of state boredom, general meaninglessness in life, meaninglessness of current circumstances, behavioural inhibition (from meeting with Prof. McGregor), state self-directed attention, and men’s sexual attitudes and behaviours. We will apply for ethical approval for this project in Autumn 2019 and complete data collection by December 2019. Following this, we will test whether engagement in sexual behaviours or endorsing certain sexual attitudes diminishes men’s boredom, feelings of meaninglessness, behavioural inhibition, and state self-directed attention. We intend maintaining contact with Prof. McGregor, Prof. Danckert, Prof. Newby-Clark, the Eastwood boredom lab, and others for this project. Overall, the research visit was successful in building academic links between Ireland and Canada.

Toronto from Ireland Park, Eireann Quay, Lake Ontario