Erin Westgate is an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where she studies boredom, interest and why some thoughts are more engaging than others. Much of her research has been on the conditions under which people enjoy or do not enjoy their own thoughts. She has extended that work to the larger question of why people become bored, developing a new model of boredom that explains what boredom is, why we experience it, and what happens when we do. As part of this, she is investigating our desire for a life full of interesting, perspective-changing experiences - or a “psychologically rich” life.
Areas of Expertise (6)
Media Appearances (3)
Boredom is a warning sign. Here’s what it’s telling you.
The Washington Post
In one famous experiment, people were asked to sit quietly for 15 minutes in a room with nothing but their own thoughts. They also had the option to hit a button and give themselves an electric shock. Getting physically shocked is unpleasant, but many people preferred it to the emotional discomfort of boredom. Out of 42 participants, nearly half opted to press the button at least once, even though they had experienced the shock earlier in the study and reported they would pay money to avoid experiencing it again.
In Defense of Daydreaming
The New York Times online
Whenever I have a few moments of down time — every weekday, for instance, when I’m waiting in the car pool pickup line for my children at camp — I grab my phone and check to see whether anything interesting has happened on Instagram. The thing is, I don’t particularly like Instagram. Social media usually makes me feel insecure, but somehow that is preferable to sitting alone with my thoughts. I’m certainly not the only person who would rather do something than engage in introspection.
Apparently, those who read literary fiction—but not other kinds—have a more “complex worldview.”
Yep, as the guy in your MFA already knows, turns out reading literary fiction is better for you than reading other kinds of fiction—especially if you grew up doing it. In a new paper published this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, scholars Nicholas Buttrick, Erin C. Westgate, and Shigehiro Oishi find that reading literary fiction early in life “is associated with a more complex worldview in Americans”—defining a complex worldview as being characterized by “increased attributional complexity, increased psychological richness, decreased belief that contemporary inequalities are legitimate, and decreased belief that people...
I enjoy hurting my classmates: On the relation of boredom and sadism in schoolsJournal of School Psychology
Stefan Pfattheicher, et. al
Schools can be a place of both love and of cruelty. We examined one type of cruelty that occurs in the school context: sadism, harming others for pleasure. Primarily, we proposed and tested whether boredom plays a crucial role in the emergence of sadistic actions at school. In two well-powered studies (N = 1038; student age range = 10–18 years) using both self- and peer-reports of students' boredom levels and their sadistic tendencies, we first document that sadistic behavior occurs at school, although at...
What Underlies the Opposition to Trans-Inclusive Policies? The Role of Concerns About Male Violence Versus Attitudes Toward Trans PeoplePersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Thekla Morgenroth, et. al
Transgender women’s access to women-only spaces is controversial. Arguments against trans-inclusive policies often focus on cisgender women’s safety from male violence, despite little evidence to suggest that such policies put cisgender women at risk. Across seven studies using U.S. and U.K. participants (N = 3,864), we investigate whether concerns about male violence versus attitudes toward trans people are a better predictor of support for trans-inclusive policies and whether these factors align with...
A Psychologically Rich Life: Beyond Happiness and MeaningAmerican Psychology Association
Shigehiro Oishi and Erin Westgate
Psychological science has typically conceptualized a good life in terms of either hedonic or eudaimonic well-being. We propose that psychological richness is another, neglected aspect of what people consider a good life. Unlike happy or meaningful lives, psychologically rich lives are best characterized by a variety of interesting and perspective-changing experiences.