Can Our Genes be the reason behind Procrastination?

One hour passes then two, then five. The hours turn to days and the days turn to weeks- an endless pattern of procrastination emerges. At one point of our lives, it is inevitable for humans to go down this path of a premeditated moment of inertia. We are either scorned for it or praised for doing it, but what if procrastination was never a choice? What if it was biologically linked to our DNA?

Incredibly, a 2018 study done by researchers of Ruhr-Universität Bochum has discovered proof that procrastination can be scientifically linked to the human genes. The research examined biological and psychological connections between self-control and emotional-control mechanisms within the brain. The study was initially based on a sample of 264 healthy adults. The first phase revealed that individuals who had a bigger amygdala, which is the part of the brain that process emotions, are prone to procrastinate more. The second phase is to identify the trait and genetic correlation with the amygdala.

Despite being a universal problem, the human brain is easily wired for procrastination. It comes down to two sections of the brain: the limbic system, which is dubbed the unconscious or pleasure zone, controls all our basic emotions and the prefrontal cortex allows us to plan and schedule tasks and to ingest information to make proper decisions. Procrastination occurs when the limbic system supersedes the prefrontal cortex. People with a larger amygdala will have more common episodes of their limbic system dominating their prefrontal cortex. Interestingly, different forms of procrastination help to avoid possible negative mental feelings and preferably feed on the positive ones that makes the human body feel good.

Lead researcher of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum project, Dr. Erhan Genç, initiated the second phase of the study with the help of scientists from the Technical University of Dresden. During the genetic analysis, 278 men and women had their TH enzyme or Tyrosine Hydroxylase tested. The gene is said to help regulate the amount of dopamine in the body. Dopamine is an organic chemical that plays a critical role in the memory, motivation and attention processes in the brain. Increased levels of dopamine results in higher levels of impulsive actions and distractibility. This can therefore affect a person’s responsiveness to perform tasks efficiently.

The results were sufficiently seen in women more so than males.  The women sample showed that their TH gene had less control over the high levels of dopamine making them a greater risk of being procrastinators. However, it is still undetermined the advocacy of this research, especially with the great contrast between the female and male results. Although, some have speculated estrogen hormones playing a potential role, the findings are still inconclusive.

Advanced research in testing another TH gene, the norepinephrine, is the next step to be taken to ultimately determine the genetic culprit for procrastination.

References:

  1. The Science Of Procrastination: Why Do We Keep Postponing Things?, 2015, Science ABC
  2. Can we blame procrastination on our genes? July 2019, Medical News
  3. How brains of doers differ from those of procrastinators, August 2018, Science Daily