Boredom and Flow: An Opportunity Cost Theory of Attention-Directing Motivational States

56 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2019 Last revised: 6 May 2021

See all articles by Zachary Wojtowicz

Zachary Wojtowicz

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Nick Chater

University of Warwick - Warwick Business School

George Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Date Written: March 13, 2019

Abstract

With the advent of the internet and the resulting explosion of easily accessible information, people’s limited capacity for attention has come to play an increasingly important role in the economy and, consequently, so have the psychological forces that determine what people pay attention to. In this paper, we study the motivational states of boredom and flow, which, we argue, help individuals to efficiently allocate their scarce cognitive resources by encoding information about the opportunity cost of maintaining attention. We develop a dual-self model in which one self (the executive) makes final decisions about how to allocate attention while the other self (the advisor) influences these decisions by changing how pleasurable or painful it is to maintain attention. The resulting utility specification provides a unified explanation of existing empirical evidence on attention-directing motivational states, makes novel behavioral predictions, and has important implications for welfare analysis. We illustrate the model’s economic implications with applications to workplace design and industrial organization.

Keywords: attention, boredom, flow

JEL Classification: D03

Suggested Citation

Wojtowicz, Zachary and Chater, Nick and Loewenstein, George F., Boredom and Flow: An Opportunity Cost Theory of Attention-Directing Motivational States (March 13, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3339123 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3339123

Zachary Wojtowicz

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

Nick Chater

University of Warwick - Warwick Business School ( email )

Coventry CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.wbs.ac.uk/about/person/nick-chater/

George F. Loewenstein (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-8787 (Phone)
412-268-6938 (Fax)

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