Boredom and Flow: An Opportunity Cost Theory of Motivational Attention
46 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2019 Last revised: 15 May 2023
Date Written: March 13, 2019
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: Suggested Citation