Genetic Contribution To Destructibility Helps Explain Procrastination

Medical genetics
Genetic testing
Medical Genetics

The researches find that the using a combination of questionnaires and genetic testing, German researchers have found that with increasing dopamine in the brain, women tended to show greater tendencies to procrastinate. Therefore Procrastination is define as voluntarily putting off certain goal-oriented activities. People who do things at once rather than putting them off show good metacontrol; which is a combination of control over cognition; motivation and emotions.

Questionnaires and genetic testing

This allows the individual to assess how much effort and control goes into achieving a particular goal; which drives the action towards that goal. These control pathways have been associate with dopamine release in the brain. When metacontrol is poor; people allow other activities to distract them from the specific action required to meet their goal, and develop chronic procrastination. However; metacontrol is intimately dependent on reward pathways and value-based processing. It also requires efficient guarding against competing information.

Dopamine has been repeatedly shown to increase the speed with which data enters the working memory, which is use to perform current tasks. At the same time, it also enhances cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility makes it easier to update the working memory and to switch tasks by enabling a broader field of attention. While these are not intrinsically negative traits, the availability of more information on current happenings in the environment could serve to distract from the intended task or to put off an action. This impacts the individual’s capability of sticking to a planned course of action.

Enhances cognitive flexibility

On the other hand, dopamine is also related to increased stability of the working memory which makes it easier to achieve goal-directed actions. These actions are achieved by dopamine activity in different areas of the brain. The first improves the signal-to-noise ratio allowing information relevant to the goal to predominate. The latter involves increased reward prediction, more updating of working memory, and increased distractibility; promoting procrastination.

Building on earlier studies, which showed that good connections between the regions of the brain called the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), as well as reduced amygdala volume, were related to goal-directed action, the researchers aimed to find out if the TH gene was involved in this correlation. The scientists looked at almost 280 men and women, especially focusing on the gene encoding the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). The expression of this gene determines the amount of various catecholamine transmitters the brain contains, including dopamine.

Alongside the genetic testing, a questionnaire-based evaluation is make of how well people in this group could do what they set out to do. The answers were used to measure the levels of decision-related action control, or AOD. The results showed that women who showed a trait-like inability to  control their actions as they intended; or in other words; trait-like procrastination; had higher expression of the TH gene.