While some individuals always seem to be on top of everything they need to do, others tend to put off tasks for tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day. Now, researchers have found that there may be a genetic reason for these tendencies, as the traits of procrastination and impulsivity are genetically linked, suggesting they can be inherited.
The researchers, led by Daniel Gustavson of the University of Colorado-Boulder, publish their findings in the journal Psychological Science.
They say the results of their study suggest both procrastination and impulsivity stem from similar origins in our evolutionary history.
While impulsivity makes sense from an evolutionary point of view – because our ancestors needed to take action and “seek immediate rewards” when the next day was unpredictable – the researchers say procrastination could have come about in more recent human history.
“Everyone procrastinates at least sometimes,” says Gustavson, “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.”
He adds that understanding why this is the case could provide insight into why procrastination occurs and how to reduce it.
According to the research team, previous studies have shown a relationship between procrastination and impulsivity in individuals, but they note that the cognitive, biological and environmental factors responsible for it have been unclear.
To further investigate this relationship, the researchers studied identical human twins – as they share 100% of their genes.
The team asked 181 pairs of identical twins and 166 pairs of fraternal twins to complete a number of surveys that focused on their inclinations to act impulsively or to procrastinate, as well as their habits for setting and maintaining goals.
Like impulsivity, the researchers found that procrastination is indeed heritable. Additionally, they found that there is a “genetic overlap” between the two traits, which means there are not any genetic influences unique to either trait alone.
They also found that the link between the two traits linked genetically with the capacity to govern goals, which suggests that delaying, making split decisions and being unable to achieve goals are all rooted in a shared genetic basis.
“Learning more about the underpinnings of procrastination may help develop interventions to prevent it, and help us overcome our ingrained tendencies to get distracted and lose track of work,” says Gustavson.
He and his colleagues say their finding suggests that procrastination could be an “evolutionary byproduct of impulsivity” on a genetic level, which probably appears more in our modern world than it did for our ancestors.
The investigators are currently looking into how the two traits are related to higher cognitive abilities, and whether the same genetic influences are linked with other facets of self-regulation in our normal, modern lives.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, which suggested eye movement speed is linked to impulsive decision making.