Friday, January 20, 2012

14 Fascinating Studies Done on Procrastination

At one time or another, we’ve all been guilty of putting off some task we know we need to take care of but can’t seem to summon up the motivation to take on. While we might all be familiar with procrastination (some more than others, with college students being some of the worst offenders), many of us don’t really understand why we do it or what may make the habit better or worse. We don’t know all the answers yet, but scientists and researchers have created numerous studies to attempt to demystify procrastination, many with interesting and sometimes surprising results. While there’s still much to learn about why we procrastinate, don’t wait to check out these fascinating studies on procrastination. They may just shed some light on what makes us so apt to put things off until tomorrow.

  1. Procrastination is on the rise, with some pretty far-reaching effects.

    A study released in 2007 by Piers Steel, a Canadian industrial psychologist, found that procrastination is on the rise and that increased procrastination makes us poorer, fatter, and unhappier on the whole. During his 10-year study, Steel discovered that while in 1978 only 5% of Americans thought of themselves as chronic procrastinators, today the figure is a whopping 26%. Why the change? It could be because there are so many ways to easily distract ourselves these days, from video games to iPads, Steel theorized. While procrastination may not seem like a big deal when you’re doing it, Steel found that it actually takes a big toll on corporate profits (to the tune of billions of dollars in lost profits), as well as the mental, physical, and financial health of those who procrastinate chronically.

  2. Procrastinators get poorer grades in college.

    With three out of four college students admitting to regular procrastination, many of them may be doing their academic performance a real disservice. A study at Ohio State University compared the grades of severe, moderate, and low procrastinators in a study skills class. The worst procrastinators got an average grade of 2.9 (on a 4.0 scale) while those who procrastinated very little earned an average of 3.6 — a substantial difference. Bruce Tuckman, the professor behind the study, said that many procrastinators justify their habits by saying that they work better under pressure, but his findings demonstrate that this likely isn’t true at all and is in reality just wishful thinking.

  3. Most people underestimate the amount of time it will take to get something done.

    One reason many people procrastinate is because they believe they can easily complete something in a short amount of time later, when it’s closer to the deadline. Unfortunately, a study by the U.S. Department of Labor has shown that people are generally pretty bad at estimating how long a task will take to complete, at least consciously. The authors of the study refer to this as the “planning fallacy” and it could be why so many people end up stressed out or unable to complete projects when they’re down to the wire. Strangely, the researchers believe that people really do know how long it will take them to work on something, and that’s precisely why they put it off; it’s easier to believe the lie and relax now than to face the reality and have to work.

  4. Procrastination may actually be connected to a wide range of other disorders in self-regulation.

    If you’re a procrastinator, there’s a good chance you have some other issues with self-regulation as well. That’s what a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology suggests, anyway. Researchers found that those who procrastinate, essentially a failure in self-regulation, also had many other characteristics in common including: reduced agency, disorganization, poor impulse and emotional control, poor planning and goal-setting, reduced use of meta-cognitive skills, distractibility, poor task persistence, and time- and task- management deficiencies. Additionally, they believe the deficiencies in these characteristics could have to do with differences in brain structure and function, specifically in the pre-frontal cortex, even though those studied appeared on the surface to be neurologically healthy.

  5. Undergrads may procrastinate more than graduate students.

    In a 2011 study from Cumhuriyet University in Turkey, researchers set out to determine who was more likely to procrastinate: high school students, undergraduates, or graduate students. The biggest culprits? Undergrads were found to be more likely to procrastinate overall, though all grade levels admitted to procrastination to some degree. High school students and undergraduates were found to procrastinate more when it came to exams and grad students when it came to writing papers.

  6. Given a choice between two movies, one to watch now, and one for later, people almost always chose a lighthearted comedy, saving a serious film for later.

    We’d all like to think we’d choose an Oscar-winning drama, acclaimed foreign film, or lauded classic over a silly comedic release when picking a movie to watch, but studies show otherwise. During a recent study, participants were given an assortment of movies to choose from, and had to select one for now and one for later. Unsurprisingly, comedies and other lighthearted fare almost always won out as being chosen first. Why? The serious films were thought to require more concentration and effort to watch, and thus were put off until a later date. This not only sheds light on why those serious films have been hanging out in your Netflix queue for years, but also exposes some interesting truths about procrastination. Even when we’re doing something we enjoy, we often put off less desirable things (even if they might be great) for what will give us instant gratification.

  7. Getting people to focus on a concrete task may make them better at finishing their work, even if the task is very different from their work.

    A German study found that getting people to think about concrete problems, even something as simple as opening a new bank account, can actually improve their performance in their other work, even if it’s entirely unrelated. Researchers think it has to do with getting the brain to focus on what is concrete, absolute, and present, perhaps giving new perspective to tasks that might have otherwise seemed too abstract to tackle. It echoes something that productivity experts have been touting for ages: if you want to get something done, you have to break it down into more concrete parts. Otherwise, you’ll be much more apt to procrastinate.

  8. Our propensity for procrastination may be evident even when we’re children.

    A study conducted at Stanford in the 1960s and 1970s offered children a treat (a marshmallow, pretzel, or cookie) with some strings attached. They could eat the treat right away if they couldn’t resist it or if they could wait a few minutes they would be able to get two treats. At the end of the study, a third of the children couldn’t resist the temptation. Researchers continued to follow these children into adulthood as they went to college, got jobs, and started families of their own. Those who were unable to resist temptation at a young age were found to have more behavioral problems, trouble maintaining friendships, difficulty paying attention, and scored a whopping 210 points lower on average on the SAT than their more-patient peers. This inability to self-regulate was found to have lasting effects on health, happiness, and success in the participants.

  9. College students given long-term deadlines actually have reduced performance in their courses.

    While you’d think that having more time to work on a paper would result in a better grade, the results aren’t always that cut-and-dried. A 2007 study conducted at MIT compared three different classes using different deadline-setting techniques for a series of paper due for the class. In the first class, students were allowed to set their own deadlines. In the second, all the papers were due on the final day of class. In the third, students had to turn in papers on set dates throughout the semester. Which performed the worst? Despite having the longest amount of time to work, students who turned papers in on the last day got the worst overall grades, as most admitted to putting off the bulk of the work until the end of the semester. The class with the highest grades was that which required papers turned in at set intervals throughout the semester, perhaps because it helped to spread out procrastination and forced students to do at least some amount of work each week.

  10. Men and women may procrastinate differently.

    Career and IQ assessment service studied procrastination through a recent online survey. Along with reaffirming many long-held beliefs about procrastination, the study also revealed some gender differences in procrastination. Women are more likely to procrastinate on issues related to health, because of perfectionism, or because of a low tolerance for frustration. Overall, however, men may procrastinate more than women. Interestingly, procrastination seems to differ by age as well, with more people 25 and over procrastinating than those in younger age groups.

  11. Studies on willpower have found that any use of willpower seems to reduce the amount of it left over for other tasks.

    Willpower may not be unlimited, new studies suggest. Any time you use self-control, say to tackle a task you don’t want to do, you’ll have less willpower for other, often unrelated tasks. Studies also show that your willpower will get lower as the day goes on, as you get more tired, stressed, or tapped out through situations that draw on self-control. Researchers refer to this as the “muscle model” of willpower because, like the muscles in your body, willpower gets exhausted from concentrated effort. Like your muscles, however, researchers believe willpower can be trained, which may give hope to those who struggle with procrastination.

  12. Procrastination may be tied to issues of self-esteem.

    Researchers at DePaul University in Chicago believe that procrastination and levels of self-esteem may be tied to one another. Their study found that those who had lower self-esteem, participated in self-defeating behavior, and exercised interpersonal dependency were much more likely to be procrastinators. Low self-esteem most often led participants in the study to put off completing tasks and to choose situations that were counterproductive to meeting their long-term goals. This study, among others, demonstrates that procrastination may be much more complicated and deeply rooted in our personalities than many of us realize.

  13. Relying on support from an outside person can actually make people procrastinate more.

    You’d think that having a supportive person in your life to cheer you on as you lose weight, work on projects, and get your life in shape would be a big help, right? Well, not always. A study released in early 2011 found that when people thought about the support a significant other offers in pursuing goals they were actually undermined in their progress and motivation toward actually achieving these goals and tended to procrastinate more. It might seem strange, but researchers believe that it happens because individuals begin relying on others to push them forward and excuse themselves from putting forth extra effort.

  14. Anxiety may increase procrastination.

    Have you ever thought about the real reason you’re not taking to a task? Is it because you don’t want to do it or because you’re afraid that you won’t be able to do it? Researchers have found that the real reason may tend toward the latter. A study published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology found that the more anxious students were about an assignment, the more likely they were to put it off. Of course, as many have experienced, the longer a project is put off, the harder it is to complete at a satisfactory level, leading to a vicious cycle of anxiety and procrastination.

Taken From Online Colleges

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