Procrastination is often interpreted as a sign of laziness. New study results, however, conclude that genes may play a role in the urge to postpone tasks.
In a study carried out in 2018, German researchers already recognized that people with a tendency to procrastinate have a larger amygdala. The same research team also conducted new investigations into the question of whether there is a connection between the property of procrastination and genes. Based on earlier research results, which indicated that in 46 percent of all cases the genes could be responsible for procrastination, the researchers came to a possible explanation, that is, however, only affecting women.
Together with colleagues from the Technical University of Dresden, Germany, the research team of Dr. Erhan Genç from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, conducted a genetic analysis of 278 healthy women and men.
The study focused on the gene responsible for the development of the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TYH). Dr. Genç notes: "Dopamine, as a neurotransmitter, has often been associated with increased cognitive flexibility in the past. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is often an increased risk of distraction." Thus the researchers came to the conclusion that the effects of the enzyme on cognitive self-control could be of significant importance in terms of shifting and targeting tasks.
In addition to genetic analysis, all study participants had to complete a questionnaire where they were asked to control their actions. In the case of men, the researchers could not establish a connection, but the situation was different in the case of the female participants.
Women carrying a variant of the TYH gene reported having less control over their actions and being more prone to procrastination. They were also genetically more likely to have higher levels of dopamine.
However, the researchers found no connection between their previous amygdala discoveries and the differences in the TYH gene. The absence of a link suggests, in the eyes of the researchers, that several different factors are important for procrastination and function independently of each other.
Based on their findings, the researchers would like to investigate the hormone further. They also want to take a closer look at the effects of noradrenaline on the control of actions. "The relationship between the TYH gene and procrastination in women has not yet been finally clarified, but estrogen seems to play a role," Genç notes. "So estrogen could make women more susceptible to genetic changes in dopamine levels. This, in turn, could affect behavior."
The next step for the researchers could, therefore, be to investigate how big the effects of estrogen are on TYH genes and thus also on procrastination. Co-author Caroline Schlüter notes: "To do this, we would need to take a closer look at the menstrual cycle and related movements in the estrogen level of participants".
Caroline Schlüter, Larissa Arning, Christoph Fraenz, Patrick Friedrich, Marlies Pinnow, Onur Güntürkün, Christian Beste, Sebastian Ocklenburg, Erhan Genc, Genetic Variation in Dopamine Availability Modulates the Self-reported Level of Action Control in a Sex-dependent Manner, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, nsz049, https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsz049