Scientists gave procrastinators a huge break in 2019. The trait — once chalked up to poor time management skills or just plain laziness — may actually have roots in our genetics and our brains.
A July 2019 study found that the urge to put things off is partially linked to a gene that regulates the neurotransmitter dopamine. In a sample of 297 people, they found that women with a certain single nucleotide variant in the gene were more likely to report procrastination-like behavior than those who didn’t have did not
This is #11 on Inverse’s list of the 25 biggest stories of human potential of 2019.
The study was the “first to investigate the genetic influences on the tendency to procrastinate,” according to Caroline Schlüter, the study’s first author.
The gene codes for an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase, which helps produce dopamine in the brain. Women who carried one version of that gene tended to produce slightly more dopamine in their brains than those with an alternative version of the gene. They also were “prone to procrastination,” according to self-report surveys measuring their time-management habits.
Dopamine is known for its role in reward and pleasure, but the study highlights another, little-known role dopamine plays in the brain. Lead study author Erhan Genc said at the time that higher levels of dopamine in the brain may increase cognitive flexibility, or the ability to jump between tasks.
This enhanced “cognitive flexibility” turns out to be more of a liability than an asset. It may make it harder for people to focus.
“We assume that this makes it more difficult to maintain a distinct intention to act,” Schülter said in a statement. “Women with a higher dopamine level as a result of their genotype may tend to postpone actions because they are more distracted by environmental and other factors.”
Boiling down a complex trait, like procrastination, to just one gene is a bit far-fetched. In reality, the researchers believe that the biology of procrastination is far more multifaceted. But the results establish a strange connection between the brain’s dopaminergic system and procrastination.
In 2018, an earlier study by the same team traced procrastination to the amygdala, a brain region that plays a role in emotional processing. In that study, procrastinators had slightly larger amygdalas, but the more recent research found no consistent pattern in amygdala volume in the women with the procrastination variant.
That signals that there are probably many different genetic and biological factors fueling the urge to put things off, the researchers say.
But the results at least give procrastinators part of the answer they’ve been meaning to look for — even if they haven’t gotten around to asking the question of why they procrastinate yet.
As 2019 draws to a close, Inverse is revisiting 25 striking lessons for humans to help maximize our potential. This is #11. Some are awe-inspiring, some offer practical tips, and some give a glimpse of the future. Read the original article here.