Exploring the genetics of 'I'll do it tomorrow'

April 7, 2014, Association for Psychological Science
Exploring the genetics of 'I'll do it tomorrow'

Procrastination and impulsivity are genetically linked, suggesting that the two traits stem from similar evolutionary origins, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research indicates that the traits are related to our ability to successfully pursue and juggle goals.

"Everyone procrastinates at least sometimes, but we wanted to explore why some people procrastinate more than others and why procrastinators seem more likely to make rash actions and act without thinking," explains psychological scientist and study author Daniel Gustavson of the University of Colorado Boulder. "Answering why that's the case would give us some interesting insights into what procrastination is, why it occurs, and how to minimize it."

From an evolutionary standpoint, impulsivity makes sense: Our ancestors should have been inclined to seek immediate rewards when the next day was uncertain. Procrastination, on the other hand, may have emerged more recently in human history. In the modern world, we have many distinct goals far in the future, which we need to prepare for – when we're impulsive and easily distracted from those long-term goals, we often procrastinate.

Thinking about the two traits in that context, it seems logical that people who are perpetual procrastinators would also be highly impulsive. Many studies have observed this positive relationship, but it is unclear what cognitive, biological, and environmental influences are responsible for it.

The most effective way to understand why these traits are correlated is to study human twins. Identical twins – who share 100% of their genes – tend to show greater similarities in behavior than fraternal twins, who only share 50% of their genes (just like any other siblings). Researchers take advantage of this genetic discrepancy to figure out the relative importance of genetic and environmental influences on particular behaviors, like procrastination and impulsivity.

Gustavson and colleagues had 181 identical-twin pairs and 166 fraternal-twin pairs complete several surveys intended to probe their tendencies toward impulsivity and procrastination, as well as their ability to set and maintain goals.

They found that procrastination is indeed heritable, just like impulsivity. Not only that, there seems to be a complete genetic overlap between procrastination and impulsivity – that is, there are no genetic influences that are unique to either trait alone.

That finding suggests that, genetically speaking, procrastination is an evolutionary byproduct of impulsivity – one that likely manifests itself more in the modern world than in the world of our ancestors.

In addition, the link between procrastination and impulsivity also overlapped genetically with the ability to manage goals, lending support to the idea that delaying, making rash decisions, and failing to achieve goals all stem from a shared genetic foundation.

Gustavson and colleagues are now investigating how procrastination and impulsivity are related to higher-level cognitive abilities, such as executive functions, and whether these same genetic influences are related to other aspects of self-regulation in our day-to-day lives.

"Learning more about the underpinnings of may help develop interventions to prevent it, and help us overcome our ingrained tendencies to get distracted and lose track of work," Gustavson concludes.

Explore further: Putting it off: Why we procrastinate

More information: Paper: pss.sagepub.com/content/early/ … 97614526260.abstract

Related Stories

Putting it off: Why we procrastinate

November 14, 2013
Everyone procrastinates. I became somewhat distracted by completely irrelevant websites, for instance, while preparing to write this article.

Low-income home strife drives earlier teen sex

March 4, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—The age at which people become sexually active is genetically influenced – but not when they grow up in stressful, low-income household environments, reports a new study.

Study finds quitting smoking enhances personality change

September 12, 2011
University of Missouri researchers have found evidence that shows those who quit smoking show improvements in their overall personality.

Study relies on twins and their parents to understand height-IQ connection

August 27, 2013
The fact that taller people also tend to be slightly smarter is due in roughly equal parts to two phenomena—the same genes affect both traits and taller people are more likely than average to mate with smarter people and ...

Heritability of avoidant and dependent personality disorder traits

September 24, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—A new twin study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health shows that the heritability of avoidant and dependent personality disorder traits might be higher than previously reported. People with avoidant ...

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Apr 08, 2014
Depression causes procrastination (delay or avoidance of an activity rather than the substitution of an important activity for a less important one). The feeling of lethargy is associated with this form of procrastination (this is the original form and the form found in all dictionaries).

For some reason a hypothetical form of procrastination that says that procrastination is the substitution of more important goals for less important ones has emerged. This is a new concept and largely unrelated to the traditional usage of the word which simply meant the delay of activity for some reason, for instance laziness.

Substitution of important for less important activity is one of an array of reasons for procrastination and should never be used to define the concept.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.