Procrastination: Is It Hereditary or a Product of Environment?

geneProcrastination has been mostly oversimplified as laziness. But there’s more to it than poor time management. It is a psychologically complex phenomenon that can affect all aspects of our everyday life, including our health, relationship, and work. In fact, most of the time, we procrastinate in order to temporarily elevate our mood. When we procrastinate, we get a short-term good feeling just because we think we can do the task tomorrow.

There has been a long debate regarding the source of procrastination: Is procrastination a fault of our environment? Or is it a built-in trait?

Some researchers argue that procrastination is not hereditary, but a by-product of our environment and the way we have grown up: For example, we never got rewarded for doing our homework early in school. There’s no incentive for doing tasks ahead of time.

However, my research on procrastination and later research in this area have shown that we can inherit procrastination. In other words, genetics can play an important role in our procrastination habits. Delaying things may be a product of our own evolution. Our willpower never had to resist environmental temptations for such a long period of time.

Living in the present had an evolutionary advantage. It enabled us to do the required tasks urgently. Our ancestors used to fight, flee, feed or mate when they felt the urge. It was the best strategy to react impulsively instead of making long-term plans.

Procrastination is a struggle between two parts of our brain: The prefrontal cortex, the region that controls planning and problem solving, and the limbic system, our “inner child” that wants immediate gratification. As a deadline approaches, urgency eventually persuades the limbic system to cooperate with the prefrontal cortex, and we get to work.

But in today’s world, self-control is more useful than impulsiveness. Conscientiousness, a basic personality trait that governs our self-control and motivation, can win the war between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system.

In one study, a team of researchers in the University of Colorado, Boulder examined the genetic roots of procrastination, impulsiveness, and goal-setting. They found that genetics played a sizable role in procrastination, even when controlling for environmental factors like growing up in the same household. Based on this study, the overall variation in procrastination among people is around 50 percent due to their genetic influences, and 50 percent due to environmental influences. In addition, the results showed that procrastination and impulsivity are linked primarily through genetic influences on goal setting and prioritizing goals to effectively regulate actions.

The results of this research are published in the Journal of Psychological Science. However, the type of genes that are responsible for these traits is still unknown, and should be further studied.

Even if procrastinating is in your DNA, it’s possible to decrease the habit. However, it takes time and practice. Precommitting to goals, like automatically deducting from your paycheck to a savings account, can help. You can also schedule your hardest tasks for the time of day when you have the most energy.

Blocking out distractions is another important strategy. By removing the audio alert of a new message, you can substantially reduce the number of visits to email, Twitter, or Facebook. While these techniques can help us in getting tasks done on-time, we will still put things off occasionally.The above-mentioned studies showed that procrastination can be hereditary. But, don’t get frustrated and give up on your efforts to get your tasks done, blaming it on your genes.

As a person with procrastination-prone genes and frequent internet distractions, I have been able to defeat my genes by meeting my deadlines! So, hopefully you will be able to do it as well.


Gustavson, D. E., Miyake, A., Hewitt, J. K., & Friedman, N. P. (2014). Genetic Relations Among Procrastination, Impulsivity, and Goal-Management Ability Implications for the Evolutionary Origin of Procrastination. Psychological science, 0956797614526260.

Would you like to know more about yourself? Take one of our surveys at Procrastination and Science Website Survey Center:

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Looking for a fun book that informs? Take a peek at The Procrastination Equation. It is the perfect gift for last Christmas. Check out the reviews.

2 thoughts on “Procrastination: Is It Hereditary or a Product of Environment?

  1. Any complex behavior, including procrastination, is a multi-caused result, no one-dimensional model that can by itself explain any complex behavior, so procrastination has dimensions or components that obey to both biological, cognitive, learning and motivational processes, plus there are other processes derived from these that also codetermine some procrastination, and these are the affective and emociotional processes. So, procrastination is not result only from inherited or environment by itself, it is a multi-caused result (Angarita, 2014 in press), this is a better and more comprehensively explanation of this interesting behaviour.. greeting! …

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