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Blame Genetics for your Procrastination and Impulsivity

Apr 22, 2014 02:05 PM EDT
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Traits that lead to both procrastination and impulsivity are genetically linked and "moderately inheritable," according to research published in Psychological Science.

For procrastination, that heritability was measured at 46 percent, and for impulsivity 49 percent. Your motivation for doing half of the things you do on a whim or in order to stall may only be about half your fault.

"The most interesting thing is that genetically they seem to be related, which suggest that they've sort of evolved together," lead author and psychological scientist Daniel Gustavson told Slate. "We also learned that a lot of what makes people procrastinate and what makes them impulsive might be them specifically forgetting about their goals and not necessarily delaying as much."

Researchers analyzed responses to questionnaires from 181 identical twins and 166 fraternal twins, all who on average were about 23 years old and together were considered representative of the entire population.

Their answers revealed that procrastination, as well as impulsivity, were indeed inheritable. In fact, there seemed to be genetic overlap.

"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," Gustavson, of the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a statement.

This degree of overlap suggests, on some level, that one doesn't exist without the other. But researchers stress that it is difficult to identify causation. They cannot say for sure that procrastination is a byproduct of impulsivity, or that impulsivity stems from procrastination tendencies.

Researchers also discussed at what point in the evolutionary timeline humans developed the propensity for being impulsive and procrastinating.

Impulsivity seems to be a trait that likely has existed for a longer time, the study's authors note. It makes sense that our ancestors would have wanted immediate rewards when future survival wasn't always certain. Procrastination, on the other hand, may have developed more recently from an evolutionary standpoint. The modern world is more complex and humans have a plethora of goals they have to keep track of, some which are so far off we can't be bothered to think about them at this point. Procrastination in this case is key to keeping one's head above water, researchers speculate.

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