Mental Health

Always Procrastinating? Your Brain May Literally Be Wired That Way, Researchers Say

How strong is your tendency to procrastinate?

Probably not too bad if you got far enough to click on this article instead of bookmarking it for later. Then again, you might be reading this article to put off doing something more important.

Either way, it may have a lot to do with the structure of your brain, according to researchers from Germany. Their study titled "The Structural and Functional Signature of Action Control" was published in Psychological Science on Aug. 17.

Over 250 people were recruited to have their brains scanned as a part of the study. In addition, they were asked to fill out a survey to measure their ability to control actions and impulses, known as decision-related action orientation. This helped the researchers determine which of the participants were procrastinators.

The findings revealed a difference in their brains, specifically in a walnut-sized structure known as the amygdala which plays an important role in the processing of our emotions. Procrastinators were likely to have a larger amygdala and also have poor connectivity with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex or DACC. The latter receives information from the amygdala and helps us to determine what action we should take in a situation.

Previous studies have found such volume differences in the amygdala to be a possible predictor of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  "Individuals with a larger amygdala may be more anxious about the negative consequences of an action — they tend to hesitate and put off things," said study author Erhan Genç from Ruhr University Bochum.

In other words, having a larger amygdala might mean you stress out more and overthink the possible scenarios that could follow your actions. So what better way to deal with this than to distract yourself and pretend that your deadline does not exist? (Think of it as a grown-up equivalent to a child covering their ears and singing "la la la" really loudly)

Poor functioning of the DACC also meant that the person was more easily distracted when having something important to do. However, the researchers believe they are still in the early stage and will need to conduct more in-depth studies to confirm these findings. Procrastinators need not believe that their fate is sealed, as lead author Caroline Schlüter notes that the brain is responsive and capable of adapting over time.

"Even though the differences regarding our ability to control our actions affect our private and professional success as well as our mental and physical health to a considerable degree, their neural foundations haven't as yet been sufficiently studied," said Schlüter, who addresses the issue in her Ph.D. thesis.

For one, mindfulness meditation has been associated with a decreased volume of grey matter in the amygdala. Experts also recommend breaking down a big task into smaller ones so your brain is not overwhelmed enough to run for the hills. 

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