Researchers Find A Scientific Reason Behind Procrastination

Procrastinating is very common. While it doesn't necessarily cause damage, it can lead to trouble or may be an indicator of other issues that need to be addressed. So why does procrastination occur?

We all know procrastination is putting off doing something for one reason or another, but according to Psychology Today, procrastination comes from a fear of being unhappy doing a particular thing or ultimately not doing the thing well. Procrastination, therefore, seems to come partly from anxiety and preoccupation with negative emotions. This complex act of avoidance — habitual for 20% of the population — can have a negative impact. Procrastinating students and workers have notable reductions in the results and quality of their work. On a health-related level, habitual procrastination can cause emotional and physical effects, such as insomnia and reduced well-being.

Is procrastination a mental health issue, then? In an interview with Medical News Today, Dr. Bill Hudenko, a professor who holds a joint appointment as a faculty member at Dartmouth's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine said, "If someone is procrastinating due to an anxiety disorder, that anxiety can lead to other negative outcomes," he explained. "Treating the underlying anxiety that affects procrastination could help someone who is avoiding necessary tasks, and may also improve other aspects of their life." The relationship between anxiety, avoiding a task, and the emotions it may cause is undoubtedly related, but how does it work?

Amygdala size affects procrastination

Procrastination comes from a thought or feeling, which starts in the brain. The amygdala, a part of the limbic system, is related to feelings of fear and anger and helps the brain respond emotionally to the environment (per Healthline). Interestingly enough, a study in 2018 showed people who procrastinate often have a larger amygdala. In an interview with Medical News Today, Sharon Greene, who specializes in treating anxiety and depression for children, adolescents, and adults at Providence Saint John's Child & Family Development Center, explains, "Your limbic system is an older part of the brain that is automatic and seeks out pleasure and/ or avoids things that cause distress ... Your prefrontal cortex is a newer part of the brain that helps with planning, decision-making, and long-term goals. We all suffer at times from procrastination due to these fighting structures in our brains."

So it seems that the constant battle of procrastination is likely influenced by the size of your amygdala. An upside to procrastination related to mental health indicates another possible reason behind it. As Dr. Hudenko also told Medical News Today, "Procrastination can also help people prioritize engaging in aspects of their life that bring joy. Perhaps it's ultimately better for your mental health if you go play that game of tennis instead of getting that project done on your list." It appears that our procrastination may be individually built into us and is likely there for a reason — despite sometimes causing trouble.