Most of us are guilty of procrastination. It's a bad habit. We all know this, so why do we continue to do it? Research done in Germany at the University of Konstanz showed that we are more likely to put things off when we think of them abstractly rather than when we think of them concretely. This actually makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? I never thought about it before and prior to reading the article I made a point to come up with my own hypothesis as to why we procrastinate, but I couldn't come up with anything!
When doing research, psychologists handed out a questionnaire to students who were being paid to complete the study. They had three weeks to respond, by e-mail, about "mundane tasks" (i.e. opening a bank account and keeping a diary) but some were asked to respond about the types of people who generally complete the given task and what it implies about them (abstract) while others were asked to describe the technical aspects of how you would go about completing each task and what one would expect to happen from there on (concrete). Those given the abstract option took much longer to respond, some not even completing the assignment, while those given the concrete option had little delay.
After I read the study, I was dumbfounded. It was such a simple plot but it made so much sense! Apparently, thinking about the task more concretely makes it feel more urgent and necessary to complete. So perhaps abstract thinking results in procrastination because nothing is anchoring it down in your brain if you're just throwing around ideas...? Just an idea. What do you think? Can you think of any alternative explanations?
The diagrams below give simple visuals of procrastination and how it translates into payoffs (top) and pain (bottom). The site I got the images from makes another interesting point that maybe we procrastinate because avoiding strenuous situations (pain) is part of human nature. Just keep in mind that this site didn't provide much concerning scientific evidence and could be a display of confirmation bias at work.
So which idea do you think is more parsimonious? Maybe you have a completely different hypothesis for this phenomena, why do you think that is more sensible?
Just a little note: By definition, procrastination is "the deferment or avoidance of an action or task which requires completion by focusing on some other action or task" (Science Daily).