Scientists have discovered brain differences that may explain why certain people procrastinate so much

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  • Scientists have identified two parts of the brain that may explain why certain people procrastinate so much.
  • A recent study found that people with poor control over their actions have a larger amygdala, which warns people about negative effects of their actions.
  • In the study, people with poor action control were also found to have a less pronounced dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which uses information from the amygdala to greenlight certain actions.
  • The researchers said future studies should examine whether someone’s level of action control can be manipulated.

For years, scientists have tried and failed to pinpoint why some people procrastinate while others tackle tasks directly. A study released last week, however, identifies two parts of the brain that may be responsible for the difference between procrastinators and doers (in other words, people who take action without procrastination).

Scientists examined the brains of 264 people through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers looked at both the volume of specific regions in the brain and the connections between those regions.

Study participants also responded to a survey about their ability to control their actions. Most of the participants were university students with no history of neurological disorders.

The scientists – biopsychologists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, who published their results in the journal Psychological Science – found that people with poor action control had a larger amygdala, which assesses scenarios and warns about the negative effects that a particular action could have. Those with poor action control also had a less pronounced connection between the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which uses information from the amygdala to determine what to do in a given situation.

According to the study, people can’t control their actions successfully if the connection between the amygdala and the dorsal ACC is impaired.

Action-oriented people are generally less influenced by an action’s possible consequences because they are more resistant to factors that cause stress, the study found. People also differ in their ability to go through with an intention and prioritize the intention over alternatives.

The study also found that men are less likely to initiate a task, while women are less likely to stop doing an undesirable task. As long as they need to stay in an action-oriented mindset to complete a task, men and women are equally action-oriented. Those who are not action-oriented are more likely to switch between various tasks, making it harder to complete one task.

While this study revealed how the brain may be connected to differences between procrastinators and doers, scientists trying to fix procrastination habits will still need to address whether action control levels can be changed via brain simulation or training.