Study Indicates Procrastination And Impulsivity Are Related Genetic Traits


Managing impulsivity: image via gorseland.netManaging impulsivity: image via gorseland.netConsider two human tendencies: impulsivity and procrastination. Impulsivity indicates a tendency to act or react quickly, perhaps without giving an action too much thought or consideration.  Procrastination is a tendency to act later, to put things off until tomorrow or some unknown future time. They may seem contradictory or like opposite traits, but they are not. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder explain how they are complementary and genetic traits.

Impulsivity's evolutionary nature is traced to the human's early need to act on what was available - there was no way of knowing what the hunt would yield on the following day, so it was a life necessity to catch whatever was available not just today but right now!  In the 21st century, there are far fewer things that must be acted on immediately, yet many of us have retained the impulsivity trait and act and react as our ancient ancestors might have acted.

Procrastination evolved as a corollary trait of impulsivity as humans began to plan for their futures; procrastination is the opposite of the traits required to plan for the future. Procrastinators may have goals for their future, but perpetually postpone (procrastinate) making actual plans to reach them.


Procrastination by Richard Krzemien: image via thewriteratwork.comProcrastination by Richard Krzemien: image via

To prove their theory that impulsivity and procrastination are both related and genetic, Daniel Gustavson and his research team at the University of Colorado Boulder evaluated the results of questionnaires administered to 181 pairs of identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, and 166 pairs of fraternal twins, who share only 50 percent of their genes; this break-down helped to provide data on the relative importance of genetic versus environmental factors.

The findings indicated that impulsivity and procrastination are inherited and that there is definite overlap in them - that the trait of impulsivity does not exist without the trait of procrastination and vice versa.

The group will next study whether impulsivity and procrastination are related to higher level cognitive skills and whether the presence of these traits have carry over into other aspects of self-regulation in our daily lives. “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,” Gustavson concludes.


sources: Association for Psychological Science, Psychological Science (Journal)