A tendency to procrastinate and make impulsive decisions can be explained, at least partially, by your genes, according to new research from the University of Colorado.
The study published in this month's "Psychological Science" found that impulsivity and procrastination are related at the genetic level, and that both are linked to a person's ability to manage goals.
Daniel Gustavson, the study's lead author and a graduate student in CU's psychology and neuroscience department, said the research findings aren't surprising, given that many personality traits are heritable.
What was significant to Gustavson, 25, was the genetic overlap between procrastination and impulsivity.
Past research has suggested that procrastination and impulsivity might be connected evolutionarily. When humans were hunter-gatherers, impulsivity was useful for satisfying basic survival needs, and humans had little use for long-term planning.
Although modern humans value long-term goals, researchers posit that impulsive tendencies, which have been firmly ingrained through evolution, are still present. The CU research may support the notion that procrastination evolved from impulsivity.
"People who are procrastinating one project might be doing that because they just jumped into something else without thinking about it," Gustavson said.
Gustavson and his team analyzed data from 347 pairs of twins — 181 identical pairs and 166 fraternal pairs. The twins were surveyed using computer questionnaires about their tendencies to procrastinate, their impulsivity and their ability to set and maintain goals.
The data from the study pointed to substantial genetic overlaps of all three traits. Failure to manage goals is tied to procrastination and impulsivity, the study's authors write.
While many people are quick to use the research to blame procrastination on their genes, that's not necessarily the case, Gustavson said.
"About half of these influences are tied to genetics," he said. "That doesn't mean you can blame your genetics for it all. One intervention could be to test to see if perhaps getting people to write down their goals or be very specific about their goals or setting up reminders might help reduce people's procrastination.
"Even though those genetic influences are very predictive of who procrastinates and who doesn't, it doesn't mean we can't try to manipulate our environment around us to try and combat some of those genetic influences," he said.
Gustavson said he hopes next to study if certain behavioral changes can help prevent procrastination, the level to which procrastination is a problem for people, and what makes some people better at succeeding — even after procrastinating — than others.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or email@example.com.