Procrastination, why do we have this habit?

Procrastination, why do we have this habit?


Procrastinate. We all do it, at work, at home, with the bills to pay, the documents to be fixed, the checks to be done, useless to make fun of ourselves. In spite of the proverbs, let's postpone what we could do today until tomorrow. Sometimes not without consequences. “Human beings procrastinate despite being aware of the potential negative consequences”, write two Sorbonne researchers at the opening of their work who were the last to wonder why we always postpone systematically until after, until tomorrow, in September. Because if in some cases postponing has no particular consequences in others it could have them all right, just think of the medical checks to be done that could delay a diagnosis, or even just the fine on a fine to pay. Not to mention stress.

Despite the phenomenon being so widespread, what triggers it, on a psychological and neurological level, is far from clear. And this in spite of the dense literature that, especially in recent years, has accumulated on the subject. Raphaël Le Bouc and Mathias Pessiglione, however, claim to have understood the phenomenon at least in part: apparently the action of procrastinating would be due to the tendency to consider tasks that we could do at a later time as less demanding but still satisfying. And if we were to blame a particular region of our brain where all this happens, the culprit would be the anterior cingulate cortex.

Procrastination to avoid negative emotions

The work of French researchers published in Nature Communications, we said, is only the latest in a long list of studies dedicated to the subject. On the other hand, Le Bouc and Pessiglione recall, we wonder why we have procrastinated at least from the time of Aristotle, according to which postponing until tomorrow revealed a lack of self-control. The thesis of the lack, or rather of the failure of self-control, still holds today when we talk about procrastination, often also defined as irrational, it is not difficult to understand why considering the risk of sometimes unpleasant consequences. Another word we come across when talking about the subject is voluntary, to underline how to postpone both a choice, which we make for quite clear reasons, as explained to the Guardian by Fuschia Sirois, an expert on the subject at Durham University: "Procrastination is a form of emotional regulation in which the sufferer avoids a task that can give rise to negative emotions, disengaging or postponing it ".

We also know several things about procrastination related to the factors - many intuitive - that can influence it, thanks also to revisions on the theme, like the one that appeared earlier this year in Frontiers in Psychology. In fact, some studies show that the type of effort to be made to carry out the task, the times for the rewards (or in any case the resolution of the problem), as well as the personality characteristics, any incentives and responsibilities influence the activity of procrastination. But why do we do it, despite all the risks - and the stress and anxieties - of continually postponing what needs to be done? We know that genetics has to do with it, thanks to the studies conducted on twins, but what happens to our brains when we decide to postpone? French research has focused on this thanks to a series of behavioral tests and magnetic resonance analysis performed on some participants.

Better an effort today or tomorrow?

Was the study set up to understand the value that participants placed on the different components of a task - such as the effort to be made, the reward or the punishment - and the role that time had on the choices to be made. In essence, they were asked to attribute values ​​to possible rewards (pieces of sushi or flowers), efforts (like memorizing numbers or doing exercises), or punishments (like losing your phone for a few hours). In parallel, to understand how the value of efforts and rewards changed in relation to time and to estimate procrastinating behaviors, the researchers asked participants for preferences regarding the execution of efforts and obtaining rewards (more or less large). , either immediately or at a later time. For example, they were given administrative forms to fill out at home, for which they had thirty days and for which they would receive a reward as soon as they filled them out. During one of the tasks, the researchers also recorded the brain activity of the participants with magnetic resonance imaging, an examination that allows us to observe which are the most active areas during a given task.

Why we always postpone

Two of the main findings to emerge from the study are that while the participants were asked to make choices, the anterior cingulate cortex area mostly lit up and that the cost associated with carrying out a task seems to decrease with the passage of time. "Procrastination - the researchers write - could derive from a cognitive bias that makes carrying out a task at a later time (compared to now) appear less tiring but not much less rewarding". In fact, if, as Le Bouc explains, the cost of both an effort and the value of a reward decrease over time, or with more distant deadlines, our brain somehow “calculates costs faster than rewards”. In other words, the cost associated with effort decreases more over time.

Why this happens, however, is not clear: we could, evolutionarily speaking, procrastinate to save energy until it becomes necessary to carry out the task that belongs to us. Or again, the authors venture, having a closer deadline would make us complete the task to be done in less time, optimizing what is available.

Powered by Blogger.