Do other people think you’re boring?
At some stage, we’ve all wondered how other people see us and the idea that they would find our lives yawn-worthy is, well, worrying.
In fact, a recent study entitled Boring people: Stereotype characteristics, interpersonal attributions and social reactions, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, addressed this very topic, surveying hundreds of people online in the US and the UK.
“Whether we admit it or not, we want people to find us interesting and to like us,” Olivia Henry, from the Australian Science Media Centre, tells ABC RN Drive.
But the study’s findings were not good news for some.
The researchers rated the most boring hobbies, jobs, characteristics and places to live.
Careers considered to be more boring included data analysts, accountants and people who worked in taxation, Ms Henry says.
By contrast, some of the least boring jobs were those of scientists, researchers and journalists.
“The most boring hobbies were sleeping, religious activities, watching TV, observing animals and doing maths,” she adds.
And the least boring hobbies named in the recent study included being “weird”, “nerdy”, having specific disinterests and having an interest in science and music.
One of the study’s authors, social psychologist Wijnand Van Tilburg says he was surprised by some of these findings.
“I think that these kinds of findings really show the subjectiveness of these stereotypes. The terms one uses to describe oneself — scientist vs analysing data; mathematics vs being nerdy — has a major impact on how people see us.”
Someone who has experienced this sort of stereotyping is Brisbane-based data scientist Daniel Kennedy.
He’s previously worked in genetics and did his PhD on trying to determine the different genetic factors in diseases. Now he works in charity fundraising, using data to discover an optimised audience.
Yet, despite his job title rating badly in the findings, some of his hobbies fall under the least boring of those identified in the study — he’s interested in music, playing piano and he recently took up the harmonica.
However, he says he’s had mixed experiences when asked about his job at parties or functions.
Sometimes people are interested and will dig a bit deeper.
“Because I think data scientist is a little bit more interesting … or buzzworthy than statistician, which is the other term that I would call myself,” he says.
“But quite often, there’s just a sort of slight moment of silence. And then they’ll [ask my fiance] ‘Anna, what do you do?'”
He understands how those people feel though.
“I have to admit, when somebody says that they’re an accountant, I struggle to think of the next question to be interested myself. So I definitely understand … the mental wall that appears … when you say that you’re a data scientist.”
The researchers involved in the recent study were astounded by some of the report’s other findings.
For instance, Dr Van Tilburg says that it wasn’t surprising that stereotypically boring people were seen as unpleasant to socialise with, but the researcher had not expected them to be seen as incompetent at what they do.
“It is quite unusual for groups of people to be stereotyped as both low on personal warmth and competence,” he says.
“So, instead of finding that, say, accountants are stereotyped as ‘boring to be around but excellent at their jobs’, we surprisingly found that such groups are also stereotyped and seen as less talented. Of course, these are just stereotypes and are unlikely to be correct.”
Yet sometimes stereotypes are based on past experiences.
Dr Nikki-Anne Wilson, post-doctoral research fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia, says the brain has a remarkable ability to make inferences about other people and their thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
“The best way of predicting the future — at least as far as our brains are concerned — is to use the information we already have,” Dr Wilson says.
“[So] if we’ve always had a good time with Bob but lunches with Sarah always tend to drag, this will understandably influence our future expectations in these relationships.”
Past experiences become more powerful when combined with social and cultural norms, she adds.
“Our brains like to make connections between pieces of information and will filter incoming information through this existing knowledge,” she explains.
“If Sarah happens to be an accountant and we’ve previously been exposed to social and cultural norms suggesting accountants are boring, we may be more likely to perceive poor Sarah as boring.”
Dr Van Tilburg says the study also revealed how much perceptions can change over time.
“For example, we found that smoking was seen as stereotypically boring,” he says.
“When I grew up, smoking was still considered something ‘cool’. Over time that image has changed, but I had not expected that smoking would be seen as something that stereotypically boring people do.”
There’s a caveat to the findings — the study only included participants from the USA and the UK.
Dr Van Tilburg says it would be good to extend the study to include a more diverse set of participants. It’s likely that the stereotype of boring people differs across countries and cultures, he adds.
“Having participants from elsewhere would help us get a better picture of the stereotype of boring people.”
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