Under- and Over- Challenging Tasks as Antecedents to Students' Boredom

T. W. Acee
Y. Cho
Jung-In Kim, School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver
B. Barry

Abstract

Research on antecedents of boredom in educational settings is scarce despite the many students who cite boredom as a major reason for dropping out of school (Bridgeland, DiIulio, & Morison, 2006). The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of task difficulty on boredom. We investigated students’ perceptions of boredom during two experimentally-manipulated puzzle tasks designed to be too easy or too difficult. Using the 10-item Academic Boredom Scale (ABS-10; Acee et al., 2010), we investigated two types of boredom: self-focused boredom (ennui) and task-focused boredom (tedium). We were interested in which type of boredom was more salient for students during the under- and over-challenging tasks. Also, of concern was the dimensionality of the ABS-10 for each task. Research on boredom has suggested that task difficulty is an important antecedent of boredom. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) posited that boredom is experienced when a person’s skills exceed task difficulty, yet Pekrun et al. (2002) found that students reported experiencing boredom both when task demands were too low and when they were too high. Acee et al. (2010) investigated students’ retrospective reports of under- and over-challenging academic situations. They found that the dimensionality of boredom varied depending on the situation, and that self-focused boredom was more salient in over-challenging situations. The present study helps to continue this line of inquiry using experimentally-manipulated puzzle tasks. Students (38 men and 128 women) were asked to complete two puzzle tasks as part of the subject pool requirements of an undergraduate educational psychology course. The first task was to solve an extremely challenging maze. The second task was designed to be very easy; students were given the answer to the first task and asked to draw the solution repeatedly. After each task, students were asked to complete the ABS-10. Using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), we examined the dimensionality of the ABS-10 for under- and over-challenging tasks. For each task, we compared CFA results for the one-factor and correlated two-factor models. When both models had acceptable fit, the models were compared using a chi-square difference test. For the under-challenging task, the one-factor model and the correlated two-factor model had acceptable fit. The chi-square difference test suggested that these two models were significantly different and that the correlated two-factor model may have been more appropriate. For the over-challenging task, the one-factor model and the correlated two-factor model had acceptable fit. Again, the chi-square difference test suggested that these two models were significantly different. Results from paired t-tests suggested that self-focused boredom was more salient in the over-challenging task, whereas the opposite was found in the under-challenging task. This study explored antecedents of boredom and suggested that task difficulty may differentially influence students’ experience of boredom. These findings help to expand boredom theory by providing empirical data on different antecedents and types of boredom. Educational practitioners may benefit from this line of research because it focuses on malleable task characteristics that can influence students’ experience of boredom.