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" If I Wait, My Partner Will Do It: " The Role of Conscientiousness as a Mediator in the Relation of Academic Procrastination and Perceived Social Loafing

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Abstract

The relations of academic procrastination with perceived social loafing and conscientiousness among undergraduate study-group partners were examined. Using 70 dyads (140 students: 87 women, 53 men), we found that when conscientiousness scores were controlled statistically from self-report data, partial correlates indicated that academic procrastination was not significantly related to perceived social loafing. Results suggested that conscientiousness may be an underlying source trait for both procrastination and social loafing. This is of interest in terms of personality theory as well as the psychological processes that these measures may reflect, particularly how duty and self-discipline may affect the intention-action gap that undermines everyday voluntary action. The concepts of procrastination and social loafing appear similar in various ways. For example, both concepts involve the expenditure of minimal amounts of energy toward task activities found across research populations and task settings (Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995; Karau & Williams, 1993). Similarly, both procrastination and social loafing relate to task aversiveness (Blunt & Pychyl, 2000) – " if I wait, perhaps I can avoid doing this unpleasant task. " Both constructs may also be understood as a failure to voluntarily live up to commitments or duties to self (procrastination) or others (social loafing). However, there may be important differences between these concepts. Procrastination typically is defined as a voluntary delay of an individual's intended action toward some task despite foreseeable negative consequences and a potentially overall worse outcome (e.
Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: Joseph R. Ferrari, DePaul
University, Department of Psychology, 2219 North Kenmore Avenue, Chicago,
IL, 60614, jferrari@depaul.edu. Or, Tim Pychyl, tpychyl@connect.carleton.ca
North American Journal of Psychology, 2012, Vol. 14, No. 1, 13-24.
NAJP
“If I Wait, My Partner Will Do It:” The Role of
Conscientiousness as a Mediator in the Relation
of Academic Procrastination and Perceived
Social Loafing
Joseph R. Ferrari Timothy A. Pychyl
DePaul University and Carleton University
The relations of academic procrastination with perceived social loafing
and conscientiousness among undergraduate study-group partners were
examined. Using 70 dyads (140 students: 87 women, 53 men), we found
that when conscientiousness scores were controlled statistically from
self-report data, partial correlates indicated that academic procrastination
was not significantly related to perceived social loafing. Results
suggested that conscientiousness may be an underlying source trait for
both procrastination and social loafing. This is of interest in terms of
personality theory as well as the psychological processes that these
measures may reflect, particularly how duty and self-discipline may
affect the intention-action gap that undermines everyday voluntary
action.
The concepts of procrastination and social loafing appear similar in
various ways. For example, both concepts involve the expenditure of
minimal amounts of energy toward task activities found across research
populations and task settings (Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995; Karau
& Williams, 1993). Similarly, both procrastination and social loafing
relate to task aversiveness (Blunt & Pychyl, 2000) – “if I wait, perhaps I
can avoid doing this unpleasant task.” Both constructs may also be
understood as a failure to voluntarily live up to commitments or duties to
self (procrastination) or others (social loafing). However, there may be
important differences between these concepts.
Procrastination typically is defined as a voluntary delay of an
individual’s intended action toward some task despite foreseeable
negative consequences and a potentially overall worse outcome (e.g.,
Ferrari, 2010; Ferrari et al., 1995; Milgram, 1991; Pychyl, 2010; Steel,
2007). Social loafing implies a reduction in effort within collective
settings where individual performance is not identifiable (e.g., George,
1996; Latane, Williams, & Harkins, 1979). One implication of these
definitions is that procrastination may have negative consequences for
only the individual, while social loafing has adverse consequences for the
14 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY
group. From a personality and social-psychological research perspective,
this individual versus group focus may be the reason that these behaviors
have not been investigated together.
Unfortunately, both procrastination and social loafing may be seen as
a part of academic life specifically and characteristic qualities of
individuals more generally (e.g., “they’re lazy”). Within the study of
procrastination, for instance, Ferrari and colleagues (1995; 2010) argued
that some individuals delay as a maladaptive lifestyle across a variety of
settings (such frequent delays constitute chronic, trait-like
procrastination: Lay, 1986). In contrast, other individuals focus their task
delays on a specific situational setting such as studying, reading, or
working on term papers (labeled academic procrastination: Ferrari &
Pychyl, 2000). From this latter perspective, we argue that it is important
to explore the context in which personal goals and procrastination may
arise (e.g., Blunt & Pychyl, 2000; Pychyl & Binder, 2004; Pychyl &
Little, 1998; Scher & Ferrari, 2000). Although trait and more context-
specific forms of procrastination share numerous personality correlates,
such as self-handicapping, disorganization, low self-esteem, and low self-
confidence (Ferrari & Pychyl, 2000, for representative research), we
focused the present studies on academic procrastination, because we
wanted to explore the potential for social loafing opportunities along with
frequent everyday task delays relevant for students.
Finding a significant relation between academic procrastination and
social loafing in the present study seems logical, given previous research.
For example, Ferrari (1994) found that procrastination was related to
interpersonal dependency, the tendency to let others “bail out” persons
who delay tasks. That is, procrastinators’ last-minute efforts may result
in others doing tasks for them. Like social loafing, interpersonal
dependency permits others to perform a target task; unlike social loafing,
however, interpersonal dependency entails presenting oneself as helpless
as a way to manipulate others into action out of a feeling of sympathy
and care (Peterson, 1993). However, Ferrari and Patel (2004) reported
that peers do not perceive procrastinators favorably when the perceived
procrastinators expect their peers to assume responsibility for completing
tasks. It seems that procrastinators may be viewed unfavorably by those
who must assume responsibility to complete the task (Ferrari, 1992).
Given these relations, in the present study we expected academic
procrastination tendencies to be significantly related to perceived social
loafing.
Based on previous research, we also hypothesized that academic
procrastination and perceived social loafing would share common
variance with the major personality trait of conscientiousness (Costa &
McCrea, 1990). Costa and McCrea defined conscientiousness within
Ferrari & Pychyl ACADEMIC PROCRASTINATION 15
their five-factor model of personality (FFM) as being a basic tendency
composed of six facets: competence, order, dutifulness, achievement
strivings, self-discipline, and deliberation. In past research using
undergraduate student samples, several studies reported that academic
procrastination was related to low conscientiousness but not to other
traits in the FFM (Johnson & Bloom, 1995; Lay & Brokenshire, 1997;
Watson, 2001). Similarly, Lay, Kovacs, and Danto (1998) found that
procrastination was related to low conscientiousness in young children.
Finally, based on consistency and magnitude of these findings, Lay
(1997) argued that conscientiousness was the essential source trait of
procrastination.
In contrast to procrastination, we found no published research that
examined the role of conscientiousness with social loafing. Nevertheless,
other personality characteristics have been studied in relation to social
loafing. Personality traits studied in relation to social loafing included
higher scores on the need for cognition (Smith, Kerr, Markus, & Stasson,
2001), beliefs about being superior in performance to others
(Charbonnier, Huguert, Brauer, & Monteil, 1998; Huguert, Charbonnier,
& Monteil, 1999), low achievement motivation (Hart, Karau, Stasson, &
Kerr, 2004), and low affiliation motivation (Sorrentino & Sheppard,
1978).
Despite the lack of research linking social loafing to
conscientiousness, it is certainly plausible that the propensity for social
loafing is determined, at least in part, by the trait of conscientiousness.
For instance, expectancy-value approaches to social loafing (see Karau &
Williams, 1993) might expect individuals low in conscientiousness to
attach less value to effortful tasks and to be more likely to take advantage
of any opportunity to reduce their effort when there appears to be low
instrumentality (i.e., when there is less of a link between their efforts and
the final outcome because they are working in a group).
To make this link, we must move from the specifics of the Five-
Factor Model that defines the facets of conscientiousness to the Five-
Factor Theory that McCrea and Costa (1999, 2008) proposed. This
theory provides a conceptual link between traits and other aspects of the
personality system. In this case, conscientiousness is one of the basic
tendencies in the model, while procrastination and social loafing may be
conceptualized as one of our many characteristic adaptations. Given this
proposed theoretical relation between traits and characteristic adaptations
of task avoidance or delay, we expected that conscientiousness would be
related to both constructs and that at least some of the variance common
to both procrastination and social loafing would be accounted for by
conscientiousness.
16 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY
In order to investigate the hypothesized relations between
conscientiousness, procrastination, and social loafing, we used a sample
that included students and their study partners in a class activity as
respondents to assess participants’ academic procrastination and social
loafing tendencies. These students were working in pairs on classroom-
based projects. Dyads have unique properties, such as the lack of
subgroup coalitions and the ability to mutually influence the other dyad
partner’s behaviors in a reciprocal fashion.
In this study, we examined perceived social loafing, as we did not
actually measure individual effort – just perceptions of effort. We believe
our findings are of interest and important conceptually, because results
from prior perceived social loafing studies (e.g., George, 1992; 1995;
Tata, 2002) demonstrated a match between perceived and actual loafing
in terms of moderating variables. The use of both the individuals’ self-
report data as well as their study-partners’ data was important in our
study, as by definition social loafing includes group performance. We
were able to explore perceptions of academic procrastination, social
loafing, and conscientiousness by participants and an observer of the
participants’ procrastination. In addition, including university
undergraduates as our participants enabled us to capture a real-world
context to assess the link between these maladaptive task-related
behaviors.
METHOD
Participants
All 140 participants (87 women, 53 men; age range = 18 21; M =
20.0 years old, SD = 1.1) were enrolled in a senior-year psychology class
at a large urban public university. This class involved small-group work
that allowed us to solicit participation of pairs of individuals who were
working together. All participants received course credit for
participating.
Psychometric Measures
Aitken’s (1982) Procrastination Inventory. A 19-item uni-
dimensional measure, this scale assesses academic procrastination
tendencies among college students, with high scores indicating frequent
delays in completing tasks and assignments. Respondents rate each item
along a 5-point scale (1 = false of me; 5 = true of me). Sample items
include “Even when I know a job needs to get done, I never want to start
it right away,” and “I am often late for my appointments and meetings.”
The authors reported a coefficient alpha of 0.82, and with the present
sample alpha was .80 (M score = 54.9, SD = 12.0).
Costa and McCrea’s (1990) Conscientiousness subscale from their
NEO-Personality Inventory. A well-known, frequently used, reliable and
Ferrari & Pychyl ACADEMIC PROCRASTINATION 17
valid inventory designed to measure five higher-order personality factors,
each of six lower-order dimensions that define conscientiousness were
included. Each of the 48-items is rated along a 5-point scale (1 = strongly
disagree; 5 = strongly agree). The six facets of the conscientiousness
scale include: competence, order, dutifulness, achievement striving, self-
discipline, and deliberation. Sample items include, “I have a clear set of
goals and work toward them in an orderly fashion,” and “There are so
many little jobs that need to be done that I sometimes just ignore them
all” (reverse score). With the present sample, the conscientiousness scale
had an overall mean score of 174.2 (SD = 59.5) and an overall coefficient
alpha of 0.76 (subscale range = 0.70 to 0.88).
George’s (1992; 1995) Social Loafing Scale. This 10-item measure is
a uni-dimensional scale that measures the degree of effort individuals put
forth toward collective tasks; that is, the extent to which individuals
demonstrate effort on shared tasks in the presence of others who also are
involved in completing the task. For our study, items were reworded to
assess perceptions of the study-partner rather than self. Sample items
include “Does not do his or her share of the work,” and “Defers
responsibilities to others he or she should assume him or herself.” This
measure assesses perceptions of social loafing within an academic
context (such as working on collective or shared group projects). George
reported a coefficient alpha of .73, and with the present sample alpha was
0.72 (M score = 18.6, SD = 7.1).
Procedure
Students participated in a study that examined study habits in the
context of both personal and group situations by signing up to attend a
testing session. Participants were asked to bring to the testing session a
classmate who was a “study partner” of a dyad-based task within a
course where working with the participant on the same course materials
was required. This study-partner criterion required that the contribution
of each member was dependent on the other and that each partner made a
difference to the productivity and the final assignment grade of the other
member in the dyad. With the exception of a few pairs, the dyad was
formed by personal choice. The recruitment announcement specified that
the participant and the study partner must have met frequently so they
would be able to be honest, fair, and objective in their assessments of
each other’s related work habits.
At the testing session, the participant and study partner returned
signed consent forms and then, independently, completed the three
psychometric measures (in counterbalanced order). The participant was
instructed to respond to the inventories with self as the referent. The
study partner was instructed to reply in reference to the target
18 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY
participant’s tendency toward academic procrastination, social loafing,
and conscientiousness when working on the assignments from class. We
believed the target participant was a better judge of his or her
procrastination tendency across situations, while the work-partner might
be a better judge of social loafing. After the inventories were completed,
all respondents were debriefed and thanked for their time. It took each
dyad under 30 minutes to complete all measures in this study.
RESULTS
Initially, t-tests for matched pairs (using case-wise deletion where
necessary due to missing data) between the participant and their study
partners were performed on the three self-report scale scores. There were
no significant differences on mean scores between self and informant
(i.e., study partner) reports on academic procrastination, perceived social
loafing, or conscientiousness (see Table 1). Both participants and their
study partners reported similar personality profiles. That is, the
participants claimed, and their study partner confirmed, similar perceived
levels of procrastination, social loafing, and conscientiousness in the
participants.
TABLE 1 Mean Score and Zero-order Correlates Between Personality
Variables for Participants and Their Study Partner
___________________________________________________________
Academic Social
M Procrastination Loafing
___________________________________________________________
Academic Procrastination:
Participant’s self-perception 55.0 (12.0)
Study partner’s perception of participant 54.6 (11.8)
Perceived Social Loafing:
Participant’s self-perception 19.1 (7.1) .32**
Study partner’s perception of participant 17.2 (6.2) .45**
Conscientiousness:
Participant’s self-perception 168.9 (54.1) -.53** -.31*
Study partner’s perception of participant 179.5 (62.2) -.25* -.30*
___________________________________________________________
n = 67-70 dyads * p < .05 ** p < .01
Note. Value in parenthesis is standard deviation.
Zero-order correlations then were calculated for the scale scores.
Table 1 presents the correlation coefficients separately for the
participants and their study partners. As noted in the table, for both the
participants and their study partners’ ratings of them, academic
procrastination was significantly positively correlated with social loafing,
and both the scores for academic procrastination and perceived social
Ferrari & Pychyl ACADEMIC PROCRASTINATION 19
loafing were significantly negatively correlated with conscientiousness.
These results support other research findings that procrastinators claim to
let others do tasks for them (Ferrari, 1992; 1994) and related to low
conscientiousness (Schouwenburg & Lay, 1994; Watson, 2001).
Fischer z-tests next were performed on these correlation coefficients
to determine whether the magnitude of the difference between self-data
and other-data was significantly different for the relations among
academic procrastination, perceived social loafing, and con-
scientiousness. The magnitude of the coefficients between academic
procrastination and social loafing for participants and their partners were
not significantly different, but between academic procrastination and
conscientiousness the difference was significant (p < .05). Results
indicated that for participants, their self-perceptions of their levels of
academic procrastination and conscientiousness were more strongly
opposite than the perceptions made by their study partner. Perhaps,
because the participants were more cognizant of their own behavior
patterns, more aware of their internal states and intentions, and had a
greater opportunity to observe their own tendency to delay academic
tasks than their partner could, the self-data reflected a much larger,
negative correlation between procrastination and conscientiousness.
TABLE 2 Partial Correlates (controlling for conscientiousness) Between
Personality Variables for Participants and Their Study Partner
Academic Procrastination
Perceived Social Loafing:
Participant’s self-perception .17
Study partner’s perception of participant .40***
n = 67-70 dyads * p < .001
We speculated that procrastination and perceived social loafing in
academic settings may be linked by the same basic tendency in terms of a
personality system (McCrae & Costa, 1999) namely,
conscientiousness. Consequently, we calculated partial correlates
between academic procrastination and social loafing controlling for
conscientiousness. Table 2 presents the partial correlation coefficients.
As noted from the table, for participants’ self-ratings only, the relation
between academic procrastination and perceived social loafing becomes
non-significant when conscientiousness was statistically controlled. It
may be that conscientiousness mediates the relation between
20 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY
procrastination and social loafing statistically, and serves as Lay (1997)
noted, as the source trait for both behavioral tendencies.
DISCUSSION
Our research explored the relations among measures of
conscientiousness, procrastination and social loafing. We hypothesized
that the measures of procrastination and social loafing would be
positively correlated. Moreover, we expected that the Big Five trait of
conscientiousness (Costa & McCrae, 1990) would be related to both
procrastination and social loafing negatively, as the basic tendency of
conscientiousness would predict lower levels of the characteristic
adaptations of needless task delay or “buck passing,” respectively. Our
results supported the understanding of the role of this basic personality
trait in the participantsacademic work. Students who had higher levels
of conscientiousness, whether measured through self- or other-report,
demonstrated lower levels of procrastination and social loafing.
These results reflect similar findings in past research that examined
the relation between procrastination and conscientiousness (e.g., Johnson
& Bloom, 1995; Lay, 1997; Schouwenburg & Lay, 1995; Watson, 2001).
Interestingly, the magnitude of the correlations for the conscientiousness-
procrastination relation were significantly different for self- versus other-
data, with the relation for the study-participant’s report showing a lower
(but statistically significant) negative correlation. In contrast, the
relations between conscientiousness and social loafing were equivalent
for both self- and other-report data. This outcome is most probably due to
the nature of procrastination and social loafing, such that the participant’s
study-partner has clear access to the participant’s social loafing as it
affects him or her directly, whereas how much the participant
procrastinates may not be as readily available, particularly in terms of the
items included in the scale (e.g., “Even when I know a job needs to get
done, I never want to start it right away”). In any case, the key finding is
that conscientiousness does indeed correlate with both procrastination
and social loafing, and for the self-report data, statistically controlling for
conscientiousness removes the shared variance between procrastination
and social loafing indicating that conscientiousness may well be a source
trait for these maladaptive behaviors (Lay, 1997).
Although our approach and data analyses were correlational, ruling
out any causal inferences based on the findings, both the personality
theory upon which we premised our research (McCrae & Costa, 1999,
2008) as well as the nature of conscientiousness itself, invite reasonable
speculations about how to interpret these results. As we noted, our results
may be explained within the context of the Five Factor Theory of
Personality (McCrae & Costa, 1999, 2008), with the basic tendency of
Ferrari & Pychyl ACADEMIC PROCRASTINATION 21
conscientiousness influencing a common characteristic adaptation to task
engagement, namely avoidance. This avoidance, as we have seen in this
study, may take one of two forms: 1) the individual’s needless delay of
task engagement or completion through procrastination, or 2) less than
optimal- or fair-sharing of the task load through social loafing. Although
this reasoning is sound within the framework of a trait-based theory, it is
somewhat unappealing as it can be seen as explaining a lower-order trait
(procrastination or social loafing) with a higher-order trait.
Another perspective on our results emerges from a consideration of
the nature of conscientiousness itself, which, in addition to such
attributes as order and achievement striving, includes the facets of
dutifulness, self-discipline and deliberation. To the extent that an
individual has higher levels of these attributes, it is reasonable to assume
that his or her approach to intentions will be different. For example,
planful deliberation about academic tasks, a feeling of dutifulness
towards them as well as the self-discipline to regulate one’s own
behavior, would help prevent a gap between intention and action that we
commonly define as procrastination, and may well be a causal factor in
social loafing. In fact, as Searle (2001) argues, this intention-action gap
would be filled by the individual just “hauling off and doing” what he or
she intended to do, as opposed to needlessly delaying or avoiding the
work through procrastination or social loafing. This focus on agency,
active deliberation and individual choice is Pychyl’s (2011) emphasis for
future research on procrastination, as the various antecedents of action,
whether personality or other situational variables, are not sufficient to
cause action. Psychology must address “. . . an irreducible conscious self
acting on the basis of reasons under the constraints of rationality and on
the presupposition of freedom [in order to] make sense of responsibility
and all of its attendant notions” (Searle, 2001; p. 89).
While the results of our study may not generalize to larger groups,
our results are interesting in exploring the link between these three
concepts in dyadic work groups. Furthermore, we recruited participants
and study partners that we assumed met frequently before the start of the
study, in order to provide honest, fair, and objective assessments of each
other’s related habits. However, we had no criteria to insure that their
pre-study relationship existed. Future studies need to include larger
groups and manipulation checks on the group-member relationships and
background knowledge.
Perhaps most important, our study is limited due to the common
variance present in our data analysis. Future studies that are not limited to
self-report measures of consciousness, procrastination and social loafing
may be more appropriate and avoid this possible confounding effect.
22 NORTH AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY
Despite these limitations, the findings of our study provide an
interesting and novel perspective on two problematic study behaviors in
relation to individual differences. Future research might focus on how
aspects of the self that may affect conscientiousness, such as self-
regulatory strength, influence procrastination and social loafing. This sort
of focus is much more appealing and has more explanatory power than a
simple trait-level explanation of our intentional action.
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Author Notes: The authors express their gratitude to Tara Wheeldon and David
D. Van Dyk (Carleton University) who assisted in data collection and analysis.
The order of authors was determined alphabetically. For questions or reprints
contact Timothy A. Pychyl, Carleton University, Department of Psychology,
1125 Colonel by Drive, Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1S 5B6,
tpychyl@connect.carleton.ca or Joseph R. Ferrari, DePaul University,
Department of Psychology, 2219 North Kenmore Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60614,
jferrari@depaul.edu
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... Although they may purposely procrastinate, they can still complete the task eventually, which means that social loafing may not increase significantly. This study took the active and passive procrastinators division from the literature [25,26] and explored the differences in active and traditional procrastination motivations between these groups in order to verify the statement of Ferrari and Pychyl [42] that passive procrastination is more linked to dependent personality and induces higher social loafing. Accordingly, the following hypotheses were also proposed: Hypothesis 2.1: Passive and active procrastinators are significantly different in terms of traditional procrastination motivation, with passive procrastinators exhibiting higher traditional procrastination motivation. ...
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... To increase the validity of the social loafing measurements, the participants were investigated in the context of a group task assignment. Evaluation by their peers rather than self-assessment by the participants provided the basis for a more objective investigation of social loafing [42]. ...
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... Given the similarities between these phenomena, a moderate correlation between perceived social loafing and procrastination, r = 0.30-0.45, was reported (Ferrari and Pychyl, 2012). In the present study, we assessed self-rated social loafing, expecting a similar relation to procrastination. ...
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