Many schools of thought quarrel over finding the last word on the origins of the phenomenon. Staunch Freudians see procrastination as a way of combating thanatos, the unconscious drive towards death.
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Other psychodynamic theories relate childrearing practices with adult procrastinating behaviour. Research shows that a coercive upbringing predicts adult procrastination Lay, The tyranny of the clock would here constitute a surrogate authority figure, against whom procrastinators vent their anger. Behaviourists, by contrast, account for procrastination with operant conditioning.
Reinforcement theory strengthens the link between this behaviour and positive outcomes. Student procrastinators seem indeed to remember more instances of successful last-minute works than non-procrastinators Ferrari et al. Alternatively, negative reinforcement views procrastination as intrinsically reinforcing because it allows the elimination of unpleasant stimuli. In academia, the main problem is that tasks and rewards are often temporally distant from each other. This is directly in breach of one of the founding tenets of behaviourism: contingency between task and reinforcement.
The discounting principle builds upon this discrepancy and hypothesises that the further away the reward, the more likely people are to procrastinate Schouwenburg, Not all research sees procrastination as maladaptive, however. The area of cognitive psychology has been particularly fertile with positively laden explanations of procrastination. Problem-solving researchers speculate that procrastination provides the incubating period necessary for subconscious processing. One may register a problem and decide to deal with it later, but this does not mean that the mind is not working.
During these periods of fruitful gestation people are not so much searching for something new, rather they are forgetting what they have on their mind. Individuals often face periods of blocking or fixation when trying to find a solution. It is only after focusing on another activity that they eventually come up with a creative solution Smith et al. Delaying the completion of a task could therefore be instrumental in providing individuals with the incubation period necessary to give birth to a more creative solution van Eerde, a.
Other cognitive psychologists envisage procrastination as a coping strategy. People procrastinate to avoid confronting their lack of ability. The self-discrepancy theory argues that procrastinators are not able to cope with the difference between reality and their ideal expectations. These discrepancies fuel a need to distance themselves from any confrontation with reality, which leads to avoidance behaviour.
Such a self-handicapping attitude conveniently shifts responsibility away from internal causes, such as lack of ability, to external circumstances, such as lack of time. Hence this method permits avoidance of any ego-dystonic or self-critical cognitions Ferrari, Procrastination is also conceptualised as a motivation-monitoring strategy. Students rarely postpone watching TV to avidly indulge in doing their assignments.
Procrastination always goes in the same direction, away from the tedious and towards the pleasant and the effortless. Once under the pressure of an approaching deadline, however, what was initially boring becomes suddenly infused with a sense of urgency, which generates an excitement similar to aggressive behaviour Ferrari, This in turn affects the sympathetic autonomous nervous system and augments the secretion of hormonal catecholamines such as adrenalin Haller et al.
The personality connoisseur will surely make a parallel between such motivation-monitoring strategies and extraversion. Eysenck demonstrated that extraverts are cortically under-aroused and are continuously seeking external stimulation in order to attain an optimal level of arousal Eysenck, One would therefore predict higher degrees of extraversion among procrastinators. Extraversion, however, is only one of the multiple personality traits associated with dilatory behaviour. The constellation of characteristics gravitating around procrastination includes perfectionism, fear of failure and different forms of anxiety, such as exam, performance and general anxiety Fritzsche et al.
Could procrastination therefore be related to sexual appetite? The answer lies in the hands of ethologists and evolutionary psychologists. There has been extensive research on energy conservation strategies and time budgeting among animals. Whether we are considering green turtle diving behaviour in the South Atlantic Hays et al. Humans are no exception to this founding evolutionary principle. Procrastination would hence constitute the sole vestige of our idle past. Readers should not be lured, however, into thinking that procrastination is but an innocuous, mildly irritating habit.
It remains one of the best predictors of low final marks among university students Beck et al. The pending question is therefore whether or not we should treat procrastination. The jury is still out on the question. Chronic procrastination can be an integral part of certain psychopathologies, including mood, anxiety and substance misuse disorders.
The linkage of procrastination with impulsivity suggests that the dopaminergic system, and particularly the nucleus accumbens, are the neurological substrates of this behaviour Cardinal et al. Ritalin, which accelerates the take-up of dopamine, could therefore be the drug of choice for chronic procrastinators.
Most dilatory behaviours, however, never attain pathological proportions.
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In these cases, time management coaching typically suffices to help people treating their proclivity van Eerde, b. But for well-adjusted readers with a procrastinating penchant this article may be the sole remedy they need to eliminate the guilt attached to their behaviour. Now, they can confidently reclaim their natural right to be idle and seek refuge in long incubatory periods of lethargy. Procrastination is a disease of civilisation. In our future-oriented societies, the rise in dilatory behaviour parallels the diminution of our leisure time.
The treatment of procrastination may therefore gain from casting the nomological net wider and taking into consideration other psychophysical resources. Research in this field is certainly a tall order as time is more than ever on the side of procrastination. Beck, B. Correlates and consequences of behavioral procrastination. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 15, 3— Blatt, S. Punctual and procrastinating students: A study of temporal parameters. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 31, Blunt, A. Task aversiveness and procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 28, — Cardinal, R.
Impulsive choice induced in rats by lesions of the nucleus accumbens core. Eysenck, H. The structure of human personality. London: Blackwell. Ferrari, J. A preference for a favorable public impression by procrastinators. Personality and Individual Differences, 12, — Procrastination as self-regulation failure of performance.
European Journal of Personality, 15, — Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research and treatment. London: Plenum Press. Fritzsche, B.
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Individual differences in academic procrastination tendency and writing success. Personality and Individual Differences, 35, — Gaulin, S. Psychology: An evolutionary approach. Haller, J. Catecholaminergic involvement in the control of aggression. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 22, 85— Harris, N. Task procrastination in organizations.
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Human Relations, 36, — Hays, G. The diving behaviour of green turtles at Ascension Island. Animal Behaviour, 59, — Heaven, P. Personality and sex. Lay, C. A modal profile analysis of procrastinators. Personality and Individual Differences, 8, — Liberty, H. The relationship between extraversion and time of data collection.
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