A genetic variant has been found to increase an individual’s tendency to procrastinate, the act of delaying an essential task in favour of easier and less vital ones.

Procrastination can harm productivity in both the workplace and everyday life. It can also negatively affect physical and mental health. However, if you are getting frustrated at yourself for constantly procrastinating, you may have your genes to blame.

A successful completion of a goal relies on an individual’s ability to successfully control their motivation, emotion and cognition. People that cannot maintain this focus are often distracted by competing tasks and show a tendency to procrastinate. As maintaining focus is linked to reward mechanisms in the brain, which are controlled by dopamine processing, researchers suspected that how individuals process dopamine will determine their tendency to procrastinate.

The enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) is the rate limiting enzyme in the biosynthesis of dopamine. The transcription of the TH gene is tightly regulated. However, a variant in the TH promoter region has been shown to increase the transcriptional activity of the TH gene. It is expected that people with this variant have higher TH activities and therefore have higher levels of dopamine in their brain.

Scientists investigated the procrastination tendency of 278 participants, 62 of which had the TH gene variant. Each participant was presented with a questionnaire with 12 hypothetical scenarios. For each scenario, the participant was given a choice of two possible actions. One represented effectively completing a task, whilst the other represented the delaying of a task without good reason. The participant was given an overall score on how likely they are to complete a task.

It was found that males tended to procrastinate more than females. However, the TH genotype also played a role. Women that had the T-allele variant of the TH gene tended to procrastinate more than women without the variant. The same correlation was not found for men, possibly due to the role of oestrogen in dopamine processing.

Researchers aim to investigate the role of other neurotransmitters on procrastination behaviours in the future. However, as the biological pathways governing brain function are so complex, one genetic variant may not be the full story to how some of us can’t stop procrastinating.

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