Does procrastination run in the family?

KUSA - The next time you find yourself scrambling to get something done at the last minute, try not to be too hard on yourself: it may be in your genes.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder published a recent study in the journal Psychological Science confirming that procrastination is a genetic trait. In their research, they also confirmed procrastination is closely linked to another genetic personality trait: impulsivity.

The 'procrastination' gene is linked to dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that creates a highly pleasurable feeling. Depending on genetic predisposition, a person can be impulsive, which provides a high level of short-term pleasure. Or, the person can procrastinate, which typically does not provide much dopamine-like pleasure. In their study, the CU researchers offered the theory that procrastination evolved in humans as a way of avoiding the dangers of being too impulsive.

"There is probably an evolutionary advantage to procrastination, because it keeps people from being too impulsive. But even though procrastination is a genetic advantage, people can take it too far," 9NEWS Psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel said.

Wachtel also reported that a number of other personality traits are tied to the same gene as procrastination and impulsivity.

"Work ethic, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion—those are all tied to the same gene," Wachtel said.

In a 2004 study, Wachtel said researchers were able to take monkeys who typically procrastinated and turn them into impulsive workaholics by shutting off the dopamine gene.

"They basically took lazy monkeys and made it so they could not stop working," Wachtel said. "This gene is only responsible for about 50 percent of any personality trait. The rest of it is environment—what happened to you as a kid and what is going on in your life now."

According to Wachtel, having a genetic predisposition toward procrastination does not doom you to a life of dawdling and hesitation.

"It might make it harder for you to start something early, but if you plan ahead and make a conscious effort to avoid holding off on a project, you can overcome your genes," Wachtel said.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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