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How your brain might determine if you are a procrastinator or go-getter, study finds

A study published in the journal Psychological Science says that the brains of procrastinators have a larger amygdala, which deals with emotions, and less connection with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.
A study published in the journal Psychological Science says that the brains of procrastinators have a larger amygdala, which deals with emotions, and less connection with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Chris McCann)

It turns out there’s a physical difference between procrastinators and go-getters, according to a new study.

And it’s all in the brain.

Researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany published a study earlier this month that found people who are prone to procrastination have a larger amygdala, which deals with emotions. The study also concluded that procrastinators also have a less defined connection between the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which helps turn emotional information into action.

Study co-author Erhan Genç said in a press release that the differences in the brain can make some people more anxious. And that, in turn, can make a person push off responsibilities due to feelings of unease, stress or fear.

Tim Pychyl, a researcher of procrastination who was not involved in the study, said that this study strengthens his argument that procrastination is linked to the emotions a person feels rather than an inability to keep track of time, the BBC reported.

“This study provides physiological evidence of the problem procrastinators have with emotional control,” he said, according to the BBC. “It shows how the emotional centers of the brain can overwhelm a person’s ability for self-regulation.”

For the study, researchers did an MRI of 264 adult brains to examine the size of their amygdala and its connection to the ACC. Subjects also filled out a survey that determined how prone they were to procrastinating, the study says, to see if there was a connection between brain structure and procrastination.

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The study found that when the amygdala is big and its connections to the ACC is poor, emotions can override a person’s better judgment about when a task needs to be completed.

“Individuals with a larger amygdala may be more anxious about the negative consequences of an action - they tend to hesitate and put off things,” Genç said in the press release. “Due to a low functional connection between amygdala and dorsal ACC, this effect may be augmented, as interfering negative emotions and alternative actions might not be sufficiently regulated.”

So should you just resign yourself to a life of procrastinating because of your brain? Experts say you might still have some control.

A 2013 study found that people who underwent an 8-week stint of mindfulness practice — or “reflecting attention and awareness to what is happening in the present moment” — actually had their amygdala shrink in size.

In a piece for Psychology Today, Pychyl wrote that habitual procrastinators might want to think about how they can change their lifestyle to make it less stressful.

“If you’re prone to the amygdala hijack that we know as procrastination,” he wrote, “it may be time to learn how to down-regulate your emotional response to the tasks in your life.”

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