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Question Your World: Why Do We Procrastinate?

After years of putting it off, scientists finally got around to studying procrastination. An in-depth study concluded that procrastination is a byproduct of our evolutionary development. So, why do we procrastinate? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

Scientists at the University of Colorado in Boulder took on a rather strange study, to see if there is a genetic correlation between impulsivity and procrastination. For this research they studied sets of identical twins, their identical genes more specifically, to see if impulsivity and procrastination are a package deal or if they come as individual aspects of our lives. The study yielded some fascinating results regarding how procrastination and impulsivity work on a genetic level. The more impulsive one is the more likely they are to procrastinate. Turns out that all the twins either had both or neither of the traits meaning impulsivity and procrastination are bundled together in the same gene. But why?

Well, this comes from some of our earliest days as a species on Earth. Let’s say a hunter were to be heading towards a certain herd of deer off in the distance, when all of a sudden some other animals dart off close by. The hunter’s ability to be impulsive and procrastinate from the task at hand, head towards the herd of deer, in order to take advantage of the potential meal that just ran by was crucial for survival. Our earliest relatives had to be impulsive in order to take advantage of opportunities for food, water, shelter, and anything else needed to survive out in the wilderness. That distracting ability was an evolutionary advantage and thus was ingrained into our genetic code.

You’re reading this on a computerized screen of some sort, so access to other information and knowledge of what your friends are doing is readily available at this very exact moment as well. We have a lot of potential distractions in our world right now. These distractions may appear more frequently, but our brain’s ability to be impulsive and get distracted has been there all along.

This study shows that procrastination is a direct byproduct of impulsivity and it's hereditary!

Understanding more about our mind’s ability to make opportunity cost analysis and a better understanding of these cognitive processes could yield more information on how to handle conditions in which humans lose focus easily. Perhaps one day work place productivity or class room focus will have a profound impact based on the research here. They’ll eventually get to that…

Article by: Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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