The human brain is a powerful tool. Always on, the brain is thinking and dealing with decisions and stressors and subconscious activities. But as much as the human brain function has a large capacity, it also has limits. Alicia Walf, a neuroscientist and a senior lecturer in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, says it is critical for brain health to let yourself be bored from time to time.
Being bored can help improve social connections. When we are not busy with other thoughts and activities, we focus inward as well as looking to reconnect with friends and family.
Being bored can help foster creativity. The eureka moment when solving a complex problem when one stops thinking about it is called insight.
Additionally, being bored can improve overall brain health. During exciting times, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine which is associated with feeling good. When the brain has fallen into a predictable, monotonous pattern, many people feel bored, even depressed. This might be because we have lower levels of dopamine. One approach is to retrain the brain to actually enjoy these less exciting, and perhaps boring, times.
Walf’s research has long focused on neuroplasticity as it relates to behavior/cognition and health of body and brain. She studies the brain mechanisms of stress and reproductive hormones as they relate to behavior and cognition, brain plasticity, and brain health over the lifespan. Specific areas of Walf’s expertise are memory, emotions, and social interactions and how these functions not only arise from the brain but change the brain itself.