Procrastination study: Scientists test twins to determine if distraction is genetic

It turns out procrastinators have agile minds

Zachary Davies Boren
Friday 09 October 2015 18:25
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Tom Hardy as the Kray twins
Tom Hardy as the Kray twins

The tendency to procrastinate is partly down to genetics, a new study has found.

A team of researchers from Boulder, University of Colorado, examined 386 pairs of twins (some identical, some non-identical) to determine why we get distracted — is it nature or nurture?

The study, which has been published in the ‘Journal of Experimental Psychology’, involved quizzing the subjects on how often they procrastinate, and performing a series of memory and inhibition tests.

Led by Daniel Gustavson, the team divided the key qualities into three categories: procrastination proneness, goal failure, and ‘executive function’ (which kind of means mental discipline).

The thinking is that if there’s a higher correlation on a measure between identical twins versus non-identical twins that would suggest it’s more down to genetics.

After comparing twins on these topics, the researchers concluded that procrastination is around 28 per cent inherited and around 28 per cent determined by the surrounding environment.

Apparently procrastination proneness and goal failure have many of the same genetic influences.

But environment (like if there’s something to get distracted by) is an even stronger link between these two measures.

Another finding: Those who tend to procrastinate also tend to have lower inhibitions.

But it’s not all bad, procrastinators are adaptable; distractable twins tended to be better at shifting mind-sets, moving more comfortably from one type of mental test to another.

According to BPS Research Digest: “Having a butterfly mind gives you a certain mental flexibility even though it makes it difficult to focus.”

Figuring out which genes are involved in procrastination is still a long way away, and there’s likely many hundreds or thousands of variations.

Gustavson concludes with some advice: “Training subjects on how to set good goals may improve their ability to manage these goals and avoid procrastination. Moreover, helping subjects retrieve their important long-term goals and use those goals to avoid getting side-tracked by short-term temptations might also be effective at reducing procrastination.”

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