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Procrastination may be genetic

Teresa Tanoos's picture
New study suggests people who procrastinate inherited the trait.

New study suggests procrastination and impulsivity are inherited traits.


If you’re one of those people who tend to put off until tomorrow what you have to do today, your procrastination may be genetic, according to a new study published in the journal, Psychological Science.

Researchers for the study suggest that traits of both procrastination and impulsivity are genetically linked, stemming from similar roots as part of the history of evolution.

Given the necessity of our ancestors to act immediately since they never knew what the next day would bring, it’s easy to see how impulsivity could be a trait that evolved in humans over time. But the researchers believe that procrastination may have evolved more recently in our history.

Study leader Daniel Gustavson, of the University of Colorado-Boulder, says that we all procrastinate some of the time. However, he and his research team wanted to examine why some folks procrastinate more than others, and why such folks also seem to be more impulsive – making rash decisions and acting without thinking.

Gustavson added that finding out why procrastinators and impulsive behavior go hand in hand might lead to better insight into why people put things off and how to reduce procrastination.

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Although prior research has found a link between procrastination and impulsivity, the research team for this study pointed out that the biological, cognitive and environmental factors that contribute to the association remain unclear.

To test their theory that procrastination could have developed as an evolutionary offshoot of impulsivity, the researchers launched their study by examining 181 pairs of identical twins because they share exactly the same genes.

For the study, the researchers asked the identical twins – along with 166 pairs of fraternal twins – to complete several surveys that included questions about their tendencies to procrastinate or act impulsively, as well as questions regarding their methods for setting goals and maintaining them.

As a result, the research team discovered that procrastination was clearly a genetic trait that was inherited, and that the relationship between procrastination and impulsivity was genetically connected with the capacity to govern goals; thus, indicating that procrastination, impulsivity and being unable to set goals all share a genetic root that is inherited.

As Gustavson explained, discovering more about what causes procrastination could help create ways to prevent it, while also helping procrastinators better cope with their genetic tendencies to become distracted and lose track of what they were doing.

Accordingly, Gustavson and his colleagues believe the results of their study reveal that, on a genetic level, procrastination could be an "evolutionary byproduct of impulsivity" that likely is more prevalent now than it was for our ancestors.

SOURCE: Genetic Relations Among Procrastination, Impulsivity, and Goal-Management Ability Implications for the Evolutionary Origin of Procrastination, Daniel E. Gustavson, et al., Psychological Science, doi: 10.1177/0956797614526260, published online 4 April 2014.