Procrastination: Biological or Psychological
While the tendency to procrastinate is often considered a habit, many people refrain from the thought or the possibility that it could derive from something greater. Procrastination is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “to put off intentionally and habitually.” My goal, however, is to discover whether procrastination is always due to mere habit (psychological), or that it is caused by a more serious underlying medical condition (biological).
Procrastination is seen so often in today’s society that some have even gone as far as calling it an epidemic. In a study done by professors David Arnott and Scott Dacko, 777 marketing students were observed (Life Hack). Of these students observed, it was found that even though the students had over four weeks to finish their assignments, only about a hundred had done so before the last twenty-four hours, making the other 86% of them procrastinators (Life Hack). You may be thinking “Well all of the students finished their work anyway, so why does it matter when they get it done?” However, in a completely different web based survey done by The Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Canada, the question “To what extent is procrastination having a negative effect on your happiness?” was asked. In those surveyed, 46% chose the option “quite a bit” or “very much” and 18% even reported “extreme negative effect” (WebMD). While it is true that some may be able to harness the procrastination trait and use it without consequence, it is obvious that the majority of procrastinators take damage to either their grades or to their mental health.
To get a clearer understanding as to why one procrastinates, we must first understand how one’s brain works. The part of the brain that is most often linked to procrastination is the prefrontal cortex (PFC). According to GoodTherapy.org, the prefrontal cortex is “implicated in a variety of complex behaviors, including planning, and greatly contributes to personality development.” The PFC is the main part of the brain used in goal setting, meaning that if you have a dysfunction with the PFC, you most likely have trouble setting goals for yourself, a trait common in many procrastinators (Serendip Studio). The prefrontal cortex is also related to the traits of organization, judgement, attention span and distractibility. Because these personality traits are linked to the PFC, it is common for those with problems in this part of the brain to have attention disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (Serendip Studio).
In a study executed by researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum, it was discovered through a multitude of lab test that two other parts of the brain are also related to the procrastination trait, the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (Ruhr-University Bochum). The amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, or dorsal ACC, are mainly responsible for assessing situations and their outcomes. Before the experiment was conducted, each individual was asked to take a survey to measure their own ability to execute action control. Following the survey, 264 men and women alike were put through an MRI scanner to asses the volume and connectedness between separate areas of the brain. Through the results of the MRI photographs, it was apparent that the individuals who had previously stated they had trouble with procrastination had a higher volume of amygdala matter. Erhan Genç, one of the lead researchers in the investigation, states that “individuals with a higher amygdala volume may be more anxious about the negative consequences of an action — they tend to hesitate and put things off.” It was also apparent through the MRI results that those who tend to procrastinate had a decreased connection from their amygdala to dorsal ACC (Ruhr-University Bochum).