The science of procrastination

The science of procrastination

New studies reveal a link between a negative attitude and procrastination, suggesting that changing an individual's bias toward neutrality can help overcome the tendency to delay tasks. Credit:

The study found that a tendency towards a negative attitude predicts procrastination.

Putting off a daunting task may seem like a universal trait, but new research suggests that people whose negative attitudes tend to dictate their behavior in various situations are more likely to delay the task at hand.

The psychological term that describes this mental process is called valence weighting bias, which describes the tendency of individuals to adapt to new circumstances by relying more heavily on their positive or negative attitudes—or, in the context of dealing with an unpleasant task, either negative or negative. Negative. positive. Internal “cues” carry the greatest weight in guiding ultimate behavior.

The battle between positivity and negativity

“The question is who will win this battle — if there are indeed positive and negative elements? “The question is, who will win this battle — if there are indeed positive and negative elements?

In a series of studies, Fazio and first author Javier Granados Samayawa, a former graduate student at Ohio State, found links between a more negative attitude and procrastination. They also found that it is possible to shift the weighting bias of strong procrastinators toward neutrality and reverse their tendency to delay the task.

“We look at this consideration of the positives and negatives that exist when people make decisions, and how balance bias shapes the path that people take,” Granados-Samayawa said.

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The research was recently published in the journal Personality and individual differences.

Concrete application: Study of income recognition

The first of three studies tested a real-world scenario: preparing a federal tax return.

“The idea is that people, at least for a brief moment, ask themselves the question: ‘Do I want to do this now?’” Fazio said. “And there are definitely positive and negative signals: 'I definitely don't want to do that.' It's a hateful task. That's the negative signal. But there's also a positive signal: 'I should do this, and I'll feel good if I do it right.'

A sample of 232 participants indicated whether they regularly filed their returns early or late during tax season. With this data in hand, Fazio and Granados-Samayawa used a research tool to assess how much participants weighed positive or negative cues more heavily when encountering something new.

Their analysis showed a relationship between more negative weighting bias and delays in filing a tax return.

“What we find is that people whose negative attitudes are more strongly generalized tend to unnecessarily delay their tasks to a greater extent,” Granados-Samayawa said.

Further explore negative weighting bias

The second study included 147 undergraduate students in a program that allowed them to earn credits in exchange for their participation in the research.

In addition to assessing student weighting bias, the study examined whether measures of students' self-control influenced their task-related behavior: how students described their level of motivation or ability to think about their initial ideas about the research program, and how we determined whether students had initiated engagement In the research early or did they delay their participation in the research?

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Results showed that the combination of negative weighting bias and lower motivation or emotional energy for effective self-control was associated with students postponing participation in the research program by starting later in the semester.

“The first study established the basic effect of negative weight bias, but the second study added some nuance,” said Granados-Samayawa, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. “For people who don't think about it much or can't think about it much, their valence-weighted tendencies guide their behavior in small ways. But if someone is more motivated and able to think about it more, that might give rise to other considerations that mitigate the effect of the valence bias.” Equivalence weighting.

Causal effects and positive effects of negative weighting bias

The third study was designed to investigate the causal effect of valence weighting bias on task completion or delay. Research credit students who self-reported as procrastinators and scored high on negative weighting bias were recruited for the study.

The researchers then manipulated the one-group valence-weighting bias tool in such a way that participants weighed positive and negative signals in a more balanced way. This shift toward neutrality changed the students' behavior: they accumulated credits more quickly than the control group, whose negativity bias and low self-control reliably predicted their delay in taking additional credits.


Negative weighting bias can also have a positive effect on behavior. These researchers also found that negative weighting bias can help people be more realistic when they ask themselves, for example, “Did I study enough for this test?” Positive weighting bias can convince people that they are prepared when they are not.

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“It's better to be more objectively balanced than to be on either extreme,” Fazio said. “But the situation in which a particular valence weight bias is likely to be a problem will vary.”

This work was supported by the John Templeton Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

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