Procrastination – Is It In Your Genes?

According to new research, it may be.   Procrastination is defined as more than just postponement in action, delays in activity or the occasional dilly-dallying that we all dabble in – but a chronic and irrational behavior pattern that involves putting off activities or responsibilities out of a habitual carelessness, with a sense of indecision when early action would have been preferable and with negative personal consequence.  According to Psychology Today, up to 20% of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators, defined as a maladaptive lifestyle.  Procrastination experts define this as a problem of self-regulation, not of time management or planning.

Much has been written on the subject, and there is also evidence on both sides of the nature vs. nurture debate that procrastinators can be both made and born.  Some research has shown that procrastination is a learned behavior in the family – as a response to authoritarian parenting.  Associations have been found between high levels of procrastination in children with controlling fathers, as children fail to develop the ability to self-regulate.  In this environment, procrastination can also be a form of rebellion, when few other options are available.  Procrastinators also have a tendency to show other forms of self-regulation problems, including alcohol abuse.

Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago has identified 3 types of Procrastinators, based on the reasons behind why they procrastinate:

  • Arousal types – thrill-seekers who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
  • Avoiders – who may be avoiding fear of failure or fear of success, but are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather be judged for lack effort than ability.
  • Decisional procrastinators – who cannot make a decision thus absolving them of responsibility for the outcome of events.


Now, research out of the University of Colorado at Boulder looked into the possible genetic routs of this maladaptive behavior by surveying 181 identical twin pairs and 166 fraternal twin pairs. Researchers surveyed the twins on their ability to set and maintain goals, propensity to procrastinate and impulsivity.

Prior research has indicated that procrastination and impulsivity are genetically linked.  And from an evolutionary perspective, impulsivity would make sense when the next day was uncertain.  While procrastination may be a more recent reaction to the modern world where we have long term goals to plan for.

Researchers concluded that procrastination can be genetic, based on the behavioral similarities in twins, and it has a genetic overlap with impulsivity.  They are hopeful further understanding of the drivers in procrastination will help identify new treatments.