Tired of procrastination? Try pre-crastination!

By Seriously Science | June 3, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/nromagna

Photo: flickr/nromagna

While we like to think we’re pretty rational beings, we end up doing irrational things all the time. From believing in superstitions to spending too much on eBay, our quirky brains often lead us to suboptimal results. In this study, researchers asked participants to do a seemingly simple thing: pick up either of two buckets, one of which was closer to them than the other, and carry it to a designated end point. They expected the students to pick the bucket that was closer to the finish line since it would require less physical effort to carry to the end. Surprisingly, however, most people picked the closest bucket, even though they had to carry it for a longer distance. After talking to the participants, the scientists realized they were witnessing a phenomenon they term “pre-crastination”: “our participants said that they chose the closer bucket to get the task done sooner. Apparently, hastening completion of the subgoal of grabbing a bucket made completion of the main goal seem closer at hand.” Pre-crastination also pops up in other contexts – for example, if you are driving a route that has a long stretch and a short turn, many people will choose to do the short turn before the long stretch, rather than saving the short turn till the end. Can you think of examples of pre-crastination in your own life? If so, please share them in the comments!

Pre-Crastination: Hastening Subgoal Completion at the Expense of Extra Physical Effort.

“In this article, we describe a phenomenon we discovered while conducting experiments on walking and reaching. We asked university students to pick up either of two buckets, one to the left of an alley and one to the right, and to carry the selected bucket to the alley’s end. In most trials, one of the buckets was closer to the end point. We emphasized choosing the easier task, expecting participants to prefer the bucket that would be carried a shorter distance. Contrary to our expectation, participants chose the bucket that was closer to the start position, carrying it farther than the other bucket. On the basis of results from nine experiments and participants’ reports, we concluded that this seemingly irrational choice reflected a tendency to pre-crastinate, a term we introduce to refer to the hastening of subgoal completion, even at the expense of extra physical effort. Other tasks also reveal this preference, which we ascribe to the desire to reduce working memory loads.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings
  • sudharma

    Seriously !!! I just cant understand what you really mean by pre crastination.!if you are driving a route that has a long stretch and a short turn, many people will choose to do the short turn before the long stretch, rather than saving the short turn till the end. – From this ? What are they saving the short turn for? couldnt just get you !Sorry!

    • Cyndi Klg

      Of course you don’t understand…You don’t even understand correct punctuation! :) (“cant” is supposed to be “can’t”)
      The actual word “cant” means hypocrisy!

    • Conrado Mota Terrero

      I think by pre-crastination they mean that, when people are tackling a problem, they determine which tasks they have to complete in order to solve the problem, and try to fulfill one of the tasks as quickly as possible so that they “feel” the problem is being solved. When they do this, they don’t consider whether they are dealing with the problem efficiently.

      I think that is what they mean by pre-crastination: trying to “feel” like you are solving the problem, when you are not necessarily doing it.

      I hope this helps.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    If bucket masses are small and identical, which one is grabbed is moot. Five gallons of water weigh 41 pounds. Repeat the experiment with science not psychology. Do not discover maxima and minima on flat performance surfaces.

    • Conrado Mota Terrero

      You’re not considering the fact that one of the buckets was usually farther from the starting point and closer to the end point. By carrying the one closer to the end point, you would spend less energy. But people would not consider this fact; they would choose the one nearer to them because that way they feel they are one step closer from reaching their goal. I believe that’s the point this article is trying to make.

  • Cody Burkett

    I am definitely a pre-crastinator. I’ve always started projects early to have them done before the due date. Then I get annoyed when everyone else is doing them the last minute. ..

  • Penny Galloway

    Kids eating your veggies first to get it over with?

  • Freggel

    “Hastening Subgoal Completion at the Expense of Extra Physical Effort.”

    None of the examples in these comments seem to address pre-crastination as defined in the article. The Idea is (@disqus_GgI156ZCvZ:disqus) that the short turn would be made earlier even if it makes the overall distance longer. And @codyburkett:disqus, pre-crastination is not a good thing. If you start a project long before a due date, you may end up having to rework due to late changes to requirements. The best time to finish a project is AT the due date, not after, and not before, so last minute sounds about right.

    • Conrado Mota Terrero

      I understand what you’re trying to say by “last minute sounds about right.” But I think is better if you complete a project early. That way, you can use the spare time to revise it as many times as necessary.

  • Glen-Martin Swartwout

    Holding multiple chunks of a task in working memory involves multitasking by our conscious intention function. Early studies at Bell Labs concluded that most people could hold 7 plus or minus 2 items in conscious awareness. That was the origin of the 7 digit phone number, as well as the reason the first two digits were originally chunked into a keyword, leaving only 5 digits to recall. There are two fundamental choices for taking items off our ‘to do list':

    • Completion or ‘Precrastination': Just do it!

    • Avoidance or Procrastination: “Why put off until tomorrow, what you can put off altogether?

    These two choice patterns tend to be habitual modus operandi for a given person, affecting behaviour across many dimension. We even see a relationship between these patterns and neuromuscular posture.

    For example, people who tend to procrastinate often have higher than normal exophoria (outward tendency) of the eyes. They localize objects further away than they really are, and perceive the world as if they have more space-time than they actually do.

    These unconscious patterns can be reformed with conscious intention and guidance. They also respond to support for correcting underlying energetic imbalances, such as metabolic interferences that contribute to low energy, fatigue and sub-optimal muscle tone in the extra ocular muscles.

    Are you the kind of person who chooses to take actions that you know are beneficial for you, even though you know they will have a cost in time, attention, comfort and/or energy? Or do you opt for keeping the status quo, what I call the ‘familiar discomfort’?

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Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
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