Procrastination may largely be a result of genes, according to new research from the University of Colorado. 

When primitive humans and our ancestors were still living in caves, life in the wild was marked by a constant life-or-death struggle. This led our species to develop systems capable of sudden, impulsive action. 

Impulsive behavior, important for survival in the distant past, is less needed in the modern day. Long-term goals require planning, and impulsive behavior can cause us to procrastinate.  

The new study suggests this natural tendency is exhibited in the modern day by the need to constantly check email, social media and our smartphones. 

"Everyone procrastinates at least sometimes, but we wanted to explore why some people procrastinate more than others and why procrastinators seem more likely to make rash actions and act without thinking. Answering why that's the case would give us some interesting insights into what procrastination is, why it occurs, and how to minimize it," Daniel Gustavson from the University of Colorado, and author of the study, said

Studies comparing behaviors of identical to fraternal twins can isolate genetic versus environmental traits, pinpointing their underlying causes. 

Daniel led his group of researchers as they quizzed 362 identical twins and 332 fraternal twins, questioning them about their ability to reach goals, and tendencies toward procrastination. It was clear from the study that a trait toward procrastination can be passed through genes. The same was found to be true for people showing more impulsive behaviors. 

Several previous studies have shown that people who procrastinate more than the average also tend to be more impulsive. This would lend evidence to the study linking impulsiveness and procrastination. Why this relationship exists is still unclear, and could be the subject of future study by other investigators.  No genetic influences are unique to either procrastination or a tendency toward impulsive behavior, lending further evidence to the study showing a genetic link toward the traits. 

The ability to manage goals was also shown to be correlated to the same genetic codes controlling impulse and procrastination.

Future research from Gustavson and his team will look at ways that higher-level cognition may be directed by heredity. 

"Learning more about the underpinnings of procrastination may help develop interventions to prevent it, and help us overcome our ingrained tendencies to get distracted and lose track of work," Gustavson said in a statement.  

The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. 

A genetic link to procrastination was detailed in the journal Psychological Science

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