How a procrastinator’s brain is different from a doer’s

Are you a notorious procrastinator? According to new research from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, some people are just more inclined to put tasks off rather than approach them head on — and their brains show it.

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To assess how “individuals differ in their ability to initiate self- and emotional-control mechanisms,” the biophysicists examined 264 healthy adults and their brains.

Through MRI scans, the scientists found that individuals with poor action control (the procrastinators) had a larger amygdala than the others. The amygdala is a region of the brain typically associated with the experience of emotions, and more intensely, fear.

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Previous research has also suggested the act of avoiding isn’t simply due to laziness, but the fear of being unable to do something.

“A threat stimulus, such as the sight of a predator, triggers a fear response in the amygdala, which activates areas involved in preparation for motor functions involved in fight or flight,” the Smithsonian Magazine reported last year. “It also triggers release of stress hormones and sympathetic nervous system.”

In addition to changes to the amygdala in procrastinators, the scientists noted a less pronounced functional connection between the amygdala and the brain’s dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.

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The “doers” of the group showed signs of a stronger functional connection between the two regions, suggesting action control is largely based on the brain’s neural structures.

“These two areas of the brain had already been linked with action control in former studies,” study author Erhan Genç said in a statement. “Individuals with a higher amygdala volume may be more anxious about the negative consequences of an action -- they tend to hesitate and put off things. Due to a low functional connection between amygdala and dorsal ACC, this effect may be augmented, as interfering negative emotions and alternative actions might not be sufficiently regulated.”

But can brain stimulation or some other mode of learning not to procrastinate help? According to researcher Caroline Schlüter, the neural foundations of differences between doers and procrastinators hasn’t been studied sufficiently enough to know just yet.

The scientists’ research was recently published in the journal Psychological Science.

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