Science

Professional Procrastinator? It may be in your genes

Do you prefer reading BuzzFeed articles to your revision notes? Starting a new series of Pretty Little Liars instead of that long essay due for next week? If you are serial procrastinator who will do anything to put off completing an important task, it may not be entirely your fault. Researchers have identified links between genetic traits and procrastination.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology studied the behaviour patterns of identical and non-identical twins to determine why some individuals are so easily distracted. They concluded that having a procrastination trait was due to both genetic and environmental factors influencing your behaviour. Identical twins have the same genetic makeup and non-identical share on average half of their genes. Therefore a higher correlation of a particular factor among identical twins compared with non-identical twins would indicate a greater role for genetic influence.

They divided the key qualities of procrastination into three main sections. How prone an individual is to procrastination and goal-failure were both tested through both types of twins completing questionnaires about these two factors. The third element they were examined on was executive function performance (essentially mental discipline), which they tested using game that ‘shifted mind-sets’ – categorising pictures according to either their colour or shape.

They determined that a propensity to procrastinate was partly inherited. The variation of procrastination tendency also overlapped with genetic factors associated with goal failures and executive function ability, although environmental influences also explained the variation in these results. So while you may be partly genetically programmed to procrastinate, the environment which you put yourself in will also influence whether you reach for your university folders or the TV remote.

However, there is some good news for those who prefer to log-in to Facebook over Learning Central. Procrastinators tend to be better at shifting mind-sets, meaning you can move more comfortably from one task to another. Your butterfly mind may prevent you from focusing, but you do have a stronger mental flexibility.

Scientists have not yet been able to identify the specific genes affecting these behaviours – it is likely that there are thousands of gene variants involved. However, by helping to pick apart the root causes of procrastination, we can develop methods that effectively help circumvent distraction. By demonstrating that at a genetic and behavioural level the desire to procrastinate goes hand in hand with poor goal management, we may be able to prevent procrastination and limit the influence genetic factors are having by setting more effective and achievable goals.

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