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The nature of procrastination: a meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychol Bull 133: 65-94

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Procrastination is a prevalent and pernicious form of self-regulatory failure that is not entirely understood. Hence, the relevant conceptual, theoretical, and empirical work is reviewed, drawing upon correlational, experimental, and qualitative findings. A meta-analysis of procrastination's possible causes and effects, based on 691 correlations, reveals that neuroticism, rebelliousness, and sensation seeking show only a weak connection. Strong and consistent predictors of procrastination were task aversiveness, task delay, self-efficacy, and impulsiveness, as well as conscientiousness and its facets of self-control, distractibility, organization, and achievement motivation. These effects prove consistent with temporal motivation theory, an integrative hybrid of expectancy theory and hyperbolic discounting. Continued research into procrastination should not be delayed, especially because its prevalence appears to be growing.
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The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of
Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure
Piers Steel
University of Calgary
Procrastination is a prevalent and pernicious form of self-regulatory failure that is not entirely understood.
Hence, the relevant conceptual, theoretical, and empirical work is reviewed, drawing upon correlational,
experimental, and qualitative findings. A meta-analysis of procrastination’s possible causes and effects, based
on 691 correlations, reveals that neuroticism, rebelliousness, and sensation seeking show only a weak
connection. Strong and consistent predictors of procrastination were task aversiveness, task delay, self-
efficacy, and impulsiveness, as well as conscientiousness and its facets of self-control, distractibility, orga-
nization, and achievement motivation. These effects prove consistent with temporal motivation theory, an
integrative hybrid of expectancy theory and hyperbolic discounting. Continued research into procrastination
should not be delayed, especially because its prevalence appears to be growing.
Keywords: procrastination, irrational delay, pathological decision making, meta-analysis
Procrastination is extremely prevalent. Although virtually all of us
have at least dallied with dallying, some have made it a way of life.
Estimates indicate that 80%–95% of college students engage in pro-
crastination (Ellis & Knaus, 1977; O’Brien, 2002), approximately
75% consider themselves procrastinators (Potts, 1987), and almost
50% procrastinate consistently and problematically (Day, Mensink, &
O’Sullivan, 2000; Haycock, 1993; Micek, 1982; Onwuegbuzie,
2000a; Solomon & Rothblum, 1984). The absolute amount of pro-
crastination is considerable, with students reporting that it typically
occupies over one third of their daily activities, often enacted through
sleeping, playing, or TV watching (Pychyl, Lee, Thibodeau, & Blunt,
2000). Furthermore, these percentages appear to be on the rise (Kach-
gal, Hansen, & Nutter, 2001). In addition to being endemic during
college, procrastination is also widespread in the general population,
chronically affecting some 15%–20% of adults (J. Harriott & Ferrari,
1996; “Haven’t Filed Yet,” 2003).
Procrastination also appears to be a troubling phenomenon.
People most strongly characterize it as being bad, harmful, and
foolish (Briody, 1980), and over 95% of procrastinators wish to
reduce it (O’Brien, 2002). Justifying this viewpoint, several studies
have linked procrastination to individual performance, with the
procrastinator performing more poorly overall (Beswick, Roth-
blum, & Mann, 1988; Steel, Brothen, & Wambach, 2001; Wesley,
1994), and to individual well-being, with the procrastinator being
more miserable in the long term (Knaus, 1973; Lay & Schouwen-
burg, 1993; Tice & Baumeister, 1997). For example, a survey by
H&R Block indicated that procrastinating on taxes costs people on
average $400 because of rushing and consequent errors, resulting
in over $473 million in overpayments in 2002 (Kasper, 2004).
Similarly, the medical field reported that procrastination on the
part of patients is a major problem (e.g., Morris, Menashe, Ander-
son, Malinow, & Illingworth, 1990; White, Wearing, & Hill,
1994); this is also reflected in the meta-analytic work of Bogg and
Roberts (2004).
A variety of other fields repeat this theme, that procrastination
is dangerous. In economics, Akerlof (1991) and O’Donoghue and
Rabin (1999) considered the relative lack of retirement savings
behavior as a form of procrastination, in which many start prepar-
ing for their later years far too late. In the political arena, procras-
tination has been used to describe both presidential decisions
(Farnham, 1997; Kegley, 1989) and the banking practices of
nations (Holland, 2001), in which important decisions are disas-
trously delayed. At larger levels of analysis, Gersick (1989) de-
scribed how teams consistently delay the bulk of their work until
deadlines approach.
Unfortunately for such an extensive and potentially harmful
phenomenon, much has yet to be learned about the causes of
procrastination, although there have been some notable reviews.
Ferrari, Johnson, and McCown’s (1995) book on the topic is
extensive but focused primarily on measurement and theory,
with less emphasis on empirical findings. On the other hand,
Van Eerde (2003) did conduct a meta-analysis on procrastina-
tion; although statistically solid, it was also limited in scope.
Based on 88 articles, it did not incorporate environmental
variables (e.g., task effects) or noncorrelational findings (e.g.,
experimental or survey results), did not consider several per-
sonality facets (e.g., extraversion or impulsiveness) or theoret-
ical foundations, and did not include a moderator search or
account for attenuation effects. Finally, a book by Schouwen-
burg, Lay, Pychyl, and Ferrari (2004) reviewed the topic but
focused primarily on technical expositions of procrastination
treatment programs for academic counselors.
Consequently, there is a need for a comprehensive and detailed
examination of the research on procrastination. With such a review,
I would like to sincerely thank Henri Schouwenburg for his enthusiasm
in this endeavor as well as his willingness to share and translate his
considerable research on procrastination.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Piers
Steel, 444 Scurfield Hall, 2500 University Drive Northwest, Human Re-
sources and Organizational Dynamics, University of Calgary, Calgary,
Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4. E-mail: Piers.Steel@Haskayne.UCalgary.ca
Psychological Bulletin Copyright 2007 by the American Psychological Association
2007, Vol. 133, No. 1, 65–94 0033-2909/07/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65
65
researchers can better elucidate the nature of procrastination, under-
standing when and why it occurs as well as how to prevent it. The goal
of this article, then, is threefold. The first goal is to establish the nature
of procrastination conceptually. Exactly what is it that is being ex-
amined? This step involves integrating the many different descrip-
tions of procrastination into a single coherent definition, showing that
this definition is consistent with the history of procrastination, and
then placing procrastination among related concepts.
With this conceptual foundation, the second goal is to explore
broadly the causes and correlates of procrastination, that is, to
establish its nomological web. These relationships are subse-
quently tested through meta-analytic review and consideration of
relevant descriptive and experimental studies. Finally, these nec-
essarily wide-ranging results need to be integrated. The findings
are evaluated with respect to temporal motivation theory (TMT;
Steel & Ko¨nig, 2006), a recent integrative motivational model that
seeks to explain self-regulatory behavior in a way that is consistent
with a wide variety of theoretical perspectives (e.g., economics,
personality, expectancy theory, goal setting).
Definition of Procrastination
Procrastination is occasionally used in a positive sense. Several
writers have mentioned it as a functional delay or as avoiding rush
(e.g., Bernstein, 1998; Chu & Choi, 2005; Ferrari, 1993b). For ex-
ample, Bernstein (1998) explained, “Once we act, we forfeit the
option of waiting until new information comes along. As a result,
no-acting has value. The more uncertain the outcome, the greater may
be the value of procrastination [italics added]” (p. 15). However, the
positive form of procrastination, as the subsequent historical analysis
indicates, is secondary in usage. The focus of this article is on the
primary negative form of procrastination.
Like many common-language terms drafted into scientific
study, definitions for procrastination tend to be almost as plentiful
as the people researching this topic (see Ferrari, Johnson, &
McCown, 1995). Initially, such definitional variation may seem to
obscure the nature of procrastination, but it may also serve par-
tially to illuminate it. Different attempts by researchers to refine
understanding can be complementary rather than contradictory. In
addition, any common theme likely reveals a core or essential
element. It is evident that all conceptualizations of procrastination
recognize that there must be a postponing, delaying, or putting off
of a task or decision, in keeping with the term’s Latin origins of
pro, meaning “forward, forth, or in favor of,” and crastinus,
meaning “of tomorrow” (Klein, 1971).
Building on this base, one procrastinates when one delays be-
ginning or completing an intended course of action (Beswick &
Mann, 1994; Ferrari, 1993a; Lay & Silverman, 1996; Milgram,
1991; Silver & Sabini, 1981). This is a useful distinction, as there
are thousands of potential tasks that one could be doing at any
time, and it becomes cumbersome to think that one is putting them
all off. The distinction also separates procrastination from simple
decision avoidance (C. J. Anderson, 2003), with which people’s
original intention is to delay.
In addition, procrastination is most often considered to be the
irrational delay of behavior (Akerlof, 1991; Burka & Yuen, 1983;
Ellis & Knaus, 1977; Silver & Sabini, 1981), which reflects the
dictionary definition: “defer action, especially without good rea-
son” (Oxford English Reference Dictionary, 1996). Being irratio-
nal entails choosing a course of action despite expecting that it will
not maximize your utilities, that is, your interests, preferences, or
goals of both a material (e.g., money) and a psychological (e.g.,
happiness) nature. Combining these elements suggests that to
procrastinate is to voluntarily delay an intended course of action
despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.
History of Procrastination
Readers interested in the history of procrastination might seek a
book by Ringenbach (1971), cited by Knaus (1979), but this search is
not recommended. Aitken’s (1982) investigation revealed that the
work was never actually written. Her correspondence with Paul
Ringenbach and the publisher revealed that it was actually an elabo-
rate joke (i.e., a book on procrastination that was never completed).
See also Kaplan (1998) for a similar well-conducted academic article/
prank on procrastination (i.e., note the reference to the Stilton and
Edam authors who “researched” using cheese to assess procrastina-
tion in mice). The first actual historical analysis on procrastination
was written by Milgram (1992), who argued that technically advanced
societies require numerous commitments and deadlines, which gives
rise to procrastination. Consequently, undeveloped agrarian societies
are not so afflicted. In their book, Ferrari, Johnson, and McCown
(1995) took a similar although softened stand. They contended that
procrastination has existed throughout history but that it only acquired
truly negative connotations with the advent of the industrial revolution
(circa 1750). Before then, procrastination was viewed neutrally and
could be interpreted as a wise course of (in)action. On balance, there
may be some truth to the notion that procrastination is a modern
malady, as self-reports of procrastination have indicated that it may be
on the rise (Kachgal et al., 2001). Despite this increase, historical
references have indicated that views about procrastination have been
reasonably constant over the ages: It is and has long been a prevalent
problem.
Starting from the industrial revolution, Samuel Johnson (1751)
described procrastination as “one of the general weaknesses,
which, in spite of the instruction of moralists, and the remon-
strances of reason, prevail to a greater or less degree in every
mind.” A contemporary of Johnson, Phillip Stanhope (1749/1968),
Earl of Chesterfield, advised, “No idleness, no laziness, no pro-
crastination; never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
Clearly preceding the industrial revolution was a sermon written
by a Reverend Walker (1682), who made it quite clear that
procrastination is extremely sinful, that he and other ministers had
rallied their congregations against it repeatedly, and that other texts
were available that spoke similarly.
1
John Lyly, an English nov
-
elist patronized by Queen Elizabeth I, was known for his 1579
work Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (as cited in Gales’ quotations,
1995), a book that relied heavily on proverbs for its content. In it
Lyly noted, “Nothing so perilous as procrastination.”
A search of classical texts yields several illuminating references
to the nature of procrastination. In 44 BC, Cicero was the consul
of Rome, its highest political office, and an infamous orator who
1
For example, a reasonably close contemporary of Reverend Walker
was Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) who wrote the sermon Procrastina-
tion, or The Sin and Folly of Depending on Future Time (Hickman, 1998).
Also, interestingly enough, the topic has continued to be of religious
significance up to present day (see http://www.sermoncentral.com/).
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spoke against several political opponents, such as Marcus Anto-
nius (i.e., Mark Antony), who later had Cicero killed. In one of a
series of speeches denouncing Antonius, Cicero stated, “In the
conduct of almost every affair slowness and procrastination are
hateful” (Philippics, 6.7). Roughly 400 years earlier, Thucydides
also wrote about procrastination. An Athenian general who wrote
extensively on the war with the Spartans, including various aspects
of personalities and strategies, Thucydides mused that procrasti-
nation is the most criticized of character traits, useful only in
delaying the commencement of war so as to allow preparations
that speed its conclusion (Histoires, 1.84.1). Finally, writing
around 800 BC, Hesiod, one of the first recorded poets of Greek
literature, provided one of the earliest possible citations. His words
are worth repeating in full:
Do not put your work off till to-morrow and the day after; for a
sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work:
industry makes work go well, but a man who puts off work is always
at hand-grips with ruin. (Works and Days, l.413)
The Bhagavad Gita (Gandhi, Strohmeier, & Nagler, 2000) pro-
vides an additional Eastern reference. Written in approximately
500 BC, it is considered the most widely read and influential
spiritual text of Hinduism. Within it, Krishna maintains, “Undis-
ciplined, vulgar, stubborn, wicked, malicious, lazy, depressed, and
procrastinating; such an agent is called a Taamasika agent”
(18.28). Of special note, Taamasika people are considered so lowly
that mortal rebirth is denied to them; rather, they go to hell.
Given this consistency of opinion, stretching thousands of years,
procrastination must be considered an almost archetypal human
failing. Therefore it is rather surprising and ironic that science did
not address procrastination sooner.
Procrastination as a Personality Trait
Whether procrastination can also be considered a trait is an
empirical question: Does people’s level of procrastination show
consistency across time and situation? There has been sufficient
research to address this issue, and it suggests procrastination has
sufficient cross-temporal and situational stability. To begin with,
there appears to be a biological or genetic component to procras-
tination. A recent study by Arvey, Rotundo, Johnson, and McGue
(2003) asked 118 identical and 93 fraternal male twins reared in
the same family to indicate the degree to which they were pro-
crastinators. The intraclass correlations for this item were .24 for
identical twins and .13 for the fraternal twins, suggesting that
approximately 22% of the variance on this item was associated
with genetic factors.
2
Nine short-term studies (N 928) were
located that had test–retest reliability data. After an average span
of 42 days between assessments, the average correlation was .73.
In addition, Elliot (2002) managed to obtain long-term test–retest
data for 281 participants who took the Adult Inventory of Procras-
tination. With a hiatus of 10 years, the correlation was .77, a
further indication that procrastination is sufficiently stable to be a
trait.
Given that procrastination reflects personality, the focus then
moves to where it fits in the nomological web, particularly the
five-factor model. Conceptually, there is also considerable overlap
with conscientiousness. For example, Costa and McCrae’s (1992)
self-discipline scale, a facet of conscientiousness, contains several
items strongly reminiscent of procrastination itself (e.g., “Before
working, I waste time”). Similarly, Schouwenburg (2004) con-
cluded:
Various studies show a very distinct clustering of related traits: trait
procrastination, weak impulse control, lack of persistence, lack of
work discipline, lack of time management skill, and the inability to
work methodically. In this constellation, there seems little justification
for viewing procrastination as a separate trait. It is possibly more
fruitful to label this cluster as (lack of) self-control. (p. 8)
Despite this overlap, conscientiousness is a broader construct. It
has been defined with terms as varied as conformity, socially
prescribed impulse control, achievement orientation, cautious-
ness, morality, organization, thoroughness, and reliability (Costa,
McCrae, & Dye, 1991; Goldberg, 1993; Hogan & Ones, 1997).
Recent work by Parish (2004) as well as Roberts, Chernyshenko,
Stark, and Goldberg (2005) has tried to clarify the nature of
conscientiousness with focused exploratory and confirmatory fac-
tor analyses along with criterion validation. In each case, a com-
prehensive list of conscientiousness-related items was adminis-
tered to over 700 participants, revealing that the conscientiousness
trait is composed of as many as six factors. From both of these
lists, the first major factor best represents procrastination. For the
work of Roberts et al., the first major factor was labeled Industri-
ousness and represented rationality, efficiency, and hard work. For
Parish, the factor was labeled Responsibility, and its connection to
procrastination was explicit; it was defined as the “the diligent
fulfillment of objectives” (p. 11). Furthermore, Responsibility (i.e.,
procrastination) also has the most uniformly strong association
with workplace deviance and academic performance. Conse-
quently, procrastination may be considered to be the most central
facet of conscientiousness, but it is not conscientiousness itself.
The Causes and Correlates of Procrastination
The amount of empirical work that has been done on procras-
tination is considerable. Researchers have been prolific in explor-
ing different possible connections and correlates. This body of
work is ideal in establishing procrastination’s nomological web,
but summarizing this extensive body of work is a challenge.
Initially, the results are divided into four major sections: task
characteristics, individual differences, outcomes, and demograph-
ics. Task characteristics indicate possible environmental causes of
procrastination. The section on individual differences deals with
relevant personality traits and is organized into the traditional
five-factor model. Outcomes indicate the proximal effects of pro-
crastination. Finally, the section on demographics reviews possible
physical and cohort moderators. Each section is then subdivided
into more specific constructs, which are reviewed along with their
relevant theory. The relationships covered are then subsequently
considered in the meta-analytic review.
Task Characteristics
Procrastination involves the voluntary choice of one behavior or
task over other options. Consequently, one cannot irrationally
2
The equation for calculating the heritability coefficient is simply the
correlation for identical twins minus the correlation for fraternal twins then
multiplied by two. In this case it is (.24 .13) 2, or 22%.
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PROCRASTINATION
delay all of one’s tasks but can simply favor some over others.
Unless people procrastinate randomly, the nature of the task itself
must then have some effect upon their decisions. True to this
conclusion, in Briody’s (1980) study, about 50% of people re-
sponded that their procrastination was due to some task character-
istic. Two predictable environmental factors have been suggested:
timing of rewards and punishments, and task aversiveness.
Timing of Rewards and Punishments
It has long been observed that the further away an event is
temporally, the less impact it has upon people’s decisions (e.g.,
Lewin, 1935). Ainslie (1975) gave a historical account of this
phenomenon from a predominantly psychological perspective un-
der the rubric of impulsiveness, whereas Loewenstein (1992)
traced its roots from a predominantly economic standpoint in terms
of temporal discounting. Support for this effect is bountiful, with
sufficient research to place it formally as one of the psychological
laws of learning (Schwartz, 1989) or the dominant economic
model of intertemporal choice or discounted utility (Loewenstein
& Elster, 1992). Given this foundation, it is not surprising that it
has also been used to explain procrastination.
In his essay on procrastination, Samuel Johnson (1751) posited
temporal proximity as a cause in that it is natural “to be most
solicitous for that which is by its nearness enabled to make the
strongest impressions.” More recently, this preference for the
present has been resurrected by O’Donoghue and Rabin (1999),
who used the economic discounted utility model to describe var-
ious forms of human procrastination, such as our tendency to save
inadequately for retirement.
Task Aversiveness
Task aversiveness is almost a self-explanatory term. Also known
as dysphoric affect (Milgram, Sroloff, & Rosenbaum, 1988) or task
appeal (Harris & Sutton, 1983), it refers to actions that one finds
unpleasant. Its relationship is predictable. By definition, one seeks
to avoid aversive stimuli, and consequently, the more aversive the
situation, the more likely one is to avoid it (e.g., procrastinate).
Although the extent to which people dislike a task may be influ-
enced by a variety of personal characteristics (e.g., boredom prone-
ness, intrinsic motivation), if people do find a task unpleasant,
research has indicated that they are indeed more likely to put it off.
Of note, task aversiveness needs the previous concept, the timing
of rewards and punishment, to account for procrastination. By
itself, it primarily predicts only task avoidance, not task delay.
Individual Differences
Attempts to specify the relationship between procrastination and
individual differences have been abundant. To help organize the
suspected correlates, researchers have organized traits into the
traditional five-factor model (Digman, 1990). Still, several re-
searchers have focused their work on a single facet of a trait, such
as impulsiveness. Because the field of personality lacks definitive
terminology at the facet level (John & Sanjay, 1999), this situation
generates an unwieldy number of relationships and creates some
confusion about what facets should be associated with any specific
trait. To reduce redundancy and illuminate potential patterns, I
have grouped together for discussion facets that share a similar
theoretical association with procrastination.
Consequently, results are clustered into the following groups.
Neuroticism is considered along with four of its facets: irrational
beliefs, self-efficacy and self-esteem, self-handicapping, and de-
pression. Similarly, the trait extraversion is reviewed along with
three of its facets: positive affect, impulsiveness, and sensation
seeking. Agreeableness is considered only at the trait level, as is
openness to experience. Intelligence/aptitude is also discussed
alongside openness to experience but is analyzed separately. Fi-
nally, conscientiousness is considered along with several con-
structs related to self-regulation: distractibility, organization,
achievement motivation, and the intention–action gap.
Neuroticism
Similar in etiology to task aversiveness, neuroticism has also
been explored as a source of procrastination. Neuroticism is very
similar to worrying, trait anxiety, or negative affect. Typically,
researchers have argued that if people procrastinate on tasks be-
cause they are aversive or stressful, then those who are more
susceptible to experiencing stress should procrastinate more (e.g.,
R. T. Brown, 1991; Burka & Yuen, 1983; Ellis & Knaus, 1977).
Consequently, the highly anxious, who can find cataclysmic inter-
pretations in benign events, should be irrationally putting off many
of life’s large and little duties.
3
Irrational beliefs. Irrational belief, cognition, or thought is a
broad term that includes several dysfunctional or anxiety-
provoking worldviews. Ellis (1973) characterized them as (a)
almost certainly hindering the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment
of desires and (b) almost completely arbitrary and not amenable to
proof or disproof. Because these beliefs create anxiety, their rela-
tionship to procrastination is similar to that of neuroticism; they
make certain tasks increasingly unpleasant. Aitken (1982) ex-
plained,
The higher the possibility of rejection (real or imagined), the more
likely it is that the individual will experience anxiety as he approaches
the task. Since even thinking about the project evokes feeling of
anxiety, the procrastinator starts an alternate task or distraction. (p. 32)
Of all possible irrational beliefs, Knaus (1973) argued that only
two are closely related to procrastination: believing oneself to be
inadequate and believing the world to be too difficult and demand-
ing. Researchers have followed in Ellis’s (1973) and Knaus’s
(1973) footsteps by investigating among procrastinators the prev-
alence of irrational beliefs as well as four specific manifestations.
Particularly close attention has been paid to fear of failure, per-
fectionism, self-consciousness, and evaluation anxiety, all reasons
that are related to worry about receiving harsh appraisal (B. L.
Beck, Koons, & Milgrim, 2000; Burka & Yuen, 1983; Ellis &
Knaus, 1977; Schlenker & Weigold, 1990).
3
Although this is the predominant opinion, others argue that the depic
-
tion is too simple. As McCown, Petzel, and Rupert (1987) discussed, it is
equally plausible that neurotics would be extremely prompt so as to remove
the dreaded task as quickly as possible. Also, the consequences of facing
a deadline unprepared may be so terrible that anxious people work exceed-
ingly hard to avoid ever confronting such circumstances.
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Low self-efficacy and low self-esteem. As fear of failure was
associated with neuroticism, so it has been connected with both
low self-efficacy and low self-esteem (Ellis & Knaus, 1977).
Specifically, people suffering from irrational beliefs may doubt
their ability to do well (i.e., low self-efficacy) and believe that any
failure to perform to standard suggests inadequacy as a person (i.e.,
low self-esteem). Independent of fear of failure, self-efficacy and
self-esteem have also been argued to have direct links to procras-
tination and performance (Bandura, 1997; Burka & Yuen, 1983;
Judge & Bono, 2001).
Self-handicapping. Procrastinators may feel that their actions
will not change their situation, and thus they concentrate instead on
managing their emotional reactions to the situation. Consequently,
to cope, they tend to use an emotion-oriented rather than a task-
oriented style (Berzonsky, 1992; Flett, Blankstein, & Martin,
1995). A particularly well-researched form of this emotion-
focused, dysfunctional self-regulation is self-handicapping, that is,
placing obstacles that hinder one’s own good performance. The
motivation for self-handicapping is often to protect one’s self-
esteem by giving oneself an external reason, an “out,” if one fails
to do well (E. E. Jones & Berglas, 1978; Smith, Snyder, &
Handelsman, 1982). Self-handicapping is also associated with a
diffuse/avoidant identity style (Berzonsky, 1992), a personality
type that seeks to avoid relevant information about oneself.
From a conceptual standpoint, however, it is debatable whether
self-handicapping could potentially cause or reflect procrastina-
tion. As J. D. Brown and Marshall (2001) discussed, an honest
attempt at the task for people with low self-efficacy and self-
esteem promises the gain of a little pride if they succeed, although
at the risk of significant shame and humiliation if they fail. Given
their bounded although perhaps faulty worldview, it is to their
benefit not to make an unambiguous bid at succeeding. Their
procrastination is then done purposefully, to maximize their over-
all utility, and should not be considered an irrational delay. Given
that this is a nuanced point, delays due to procrastination or to
self-handicapping should be behaviorally similar, and researchers
can expect them to be empirically related.
Depression. Depression, low energy, learned helplessness,
and pessimism are closely related to each other and to neuroticism,
irrational beliefs, and low self-efficacy or self-esteem. A. T. Beck
(1993), for example, described depression as being due to irratio-
nal beliefs that result in pessimism and self-dislike. Similarly,
several studies have shown that neuroticism greatly increases
susceptibility to depression (Ruiz-Caballero & Bermudez, 1995;
Saklofske, Kelly, & Janzen, 1995). Costa and McCrae (1992) went
so far as to include depression as a facet of neuroticism in their
personality scale. Several researchers have argued that learned
helplessness and pessimism are strongly connected to depression,
both theoretically and empirically (Abramson, Metalsky, & Alloy,
1989; C. Peterson, Colvin, & Lin, 1992). In addition, McCown,
Johnson, and Petzel (1989) conducted a principal components
analysis on several psychological inventories administered to a
group of procrastinators. They found that depressed affect, neu-
roticism, and diminished feelings of control over the situation
tended to load together, indicating that collectively they could
represent at least one of the causes of procrastination.
Clinical depression has several characteristics that make it a
likely suspect for causing procrastination. Depressed people are
often unable to take pleasure in life’s activities, tend to lack
energy, and have problems concentrating (American Psychiatric
Association, 1994), all symptoms that make task completion dif-
ficult. The Beck Depression Inventory (A. T. Beck & Beck, 1972)
even includes an item reminiscent of procrastination: “I put off
making decisions more than I used to.” As energy wanes, working
apparently becomes painful or more difficult (Baumeister, Heath-
erton, & Tice, 1994). Burka and Yuen (1983) also discussed the
fact that, when people are tired, it is harder for them to initiate
tasks.
Openness to Experience: Intelligence/Aptitude
Openness to experience is sometimes referred to as culture,
intellect,orneed for cognition. As McCrae (1996) described it,
“Openness is a broad and general dimension, seen in vivid fantasy,
artistic sensitivity, depth of feeling, behavioral flexibility, intellec-
tual curiosity, and unconventional attitudes” (p. 323). Also, of the
big-five personality traits, openness shows the strongest relation-
ship with intelligence and scholastic aptitude (Beier & Ackerman,
2001), which are consequently summarized here. No direct rela-
tionship has yet been posited between openness or intelligence and
procrastination, and accordingly, none is expected.
Agreeableness
According to the clinical literature (Burka & Yuen, 1983;
Knaus, 1979), rebelliousness, hostility, and disagreeableness are
thought to be major motivations for procrastination. Those with
these personality traits are more likely to experience externally
imposed schedules as aversive and thus to avoid them. By delaying
work and starting it on one’s own schedule, one also reasserts
one’s autonomy. The possibility of this etiology has led to the
development of paradoxical treatments; for example, people are
directed to procrastinate, and when they rebel against this direc-
tive, they start work early (e.g., Mulry, Fleming, & Gottschalk,
1994; Shoham-Salomon, Avner, & Neeman, 1989).
Extraversion
Extraversion is one of the more interesting possible causes of
procrastination, but also one of the more complicated. Extraverts
are usually described as sociable, optimistic, outgoing, energetic,
expressive, exciting, and impulsive (Brand, 1997; Guilford, 1977).
Note that the exact definition of impulsiveness and its structure
wanders somewhat, as well as which personality trait it best
represents (Revelle, 1997). Typically, impulsiveness indicates
spontaneity and a tendency to act upon whims and inclinations.
Some aspects of extraversion have already been discussed.
Although pessimism and low energy level are aspects of depres-
sion, they are also a central part of extraversion, especially as
measured by positive emotionality or affect (Watson & Clark,
1997). These preliminary findings demonstrate some of the com-
plexities of extraversion, as procrastination’s hypothesized rela-
tionships with these facets conflict. Both lethargy and impulsive-
ness are expected to predict procrastination, but lethargy indicates
a lack of extraversion, whereas impulsiveness suggests an abun-
dance of the trait. In keeping with this inconsistency, no significant
results are expected for extraversion.
69
PROCRASTINATION
Impulsiveness. Whereas trait anxiety is perceived as represent-
ing the behavioral inhibition system, or BIS, impulsiveness is
primarily seen as representing the behavioral activation system, or
BAS (Pickering et al., 1997). The BAS acts to motivate people in
their pursuit of rewarding experiences and is a necessary cognitive
component for proper functioning. However, an overactive BAS
should result in characteristics such as rapid decision making and
shorter attention spans, which in turn may increase procrastination.
Impulsive people may be more likely to procrastinate, as they
are likely beset with desires of the moment and focus their atten-
tion upon them (Blatt & Quinn, 1967). Given that thoughts of the
future do not weigh heavily in their decisions, they often pursue
immediate gratification, neglecting or ignoring longer term respon-
sibilities. Consequently, impulsiveness is similar to the construct
of present-time orientation.
Sensation seeking. Sensation seeking, like impulsiveness, is
also interpreted as the result of an overactive BAS. People high in
this trait are easily bored and long for excitement, and thus they
may intentionally put off work in order to feel the tension of
working close to a deadline. Their delays may be more purpose-
fully planned than those of the purely impulsive; thus the ratio-
nality of this strategy, and consequently whether it should be
considered procrastination, is debatable. Feasibly, this tactic could
actually add significant pleasure and increase performance (Rev-
elle, 1997; Sommer, 1990); without it, work could become tedious
and slogging. However, Ainslie (1992) argued that the habit of
sensation seeking may also become addictive, resulting in ever-
increasing delays as one begins to relish ever-increasing risks.
Ultimately, sensation seekers may find that their pleasure has been
bought with substantially diminished performance and long-term
regret.
Conscientiousness
As mentioned, procrastination is conceptually representative of
low conscientiousness and self-regulatory failure. Consequently, it
should show strong associations with these variables. However,
several other constructs should also demonstrate substantive rela-
tionships. Ideally, procrastination should be associated with dis-
tractibility, poor organization, low achievement motivation, and an
intention–action gap. That each of these constructs represents low
conscientiousness or self-regulatory failure is reviewed in the
following, as is their theoretical connection to procrastination.
Distractibility. It has long been noted that attention is critical
to self-control. Sigmund Freud (1923/1961) and William James
(1890a, 1890b) spoke to this point, and more recent prominent
researchers such as Austin and Klein (1996), Simon (1994), and
Kuhl (2000) have maintained this view. By way of an explanation,
Klinger (1996, 1999) indicated that changes in flow of thought are
preceded by an emotionally arousing cue. Consequently, manage-
ment of distracting cues could facilitate the prevention of procras-
tination so that one either fails to encode these cues or limits their
processing so that they are not fully valued.
Organization. Organization refers to ordering, structuring,
and planning one’s life. It is a key self-regulatory technique that
can reduce procrastination in several ways. For example, organi-
zation may contribute to goal setting (Locke & Latham, 1990), gap
reflection (Oettingen, 1996), or automatic habits that preclude the
decision to do otherwise (Bargh & Barndollar, 1996).
Achievement motivation. Another aspect of conscientiousness
that should be strongly related to procrastination is achievement
motivation. Those high in achievement motivation set more diffi-
cult goals for themselves and often enjoy performance for its own
sake (Costa & McCrae, 1992; Spence & Helmreich, 1983).
Achievement motivation may affect procrastination by making
work intrinsically engaging and thus necessarily less aversive.
However, it is important to note that achievement motivation is not
limited to intrinsic motivation, and it may incorporate extrinsic
elements as well.
Intention–action gap. The intention–action gap refers to the
degree to which people follow up on their original work plans.
Most procrastination researchers suppose that delaying is not only
irrational but also unintentional (e.g., Silver & Sabini, 1981). They
believe that procrastinators do not purposefully put off their
chores, but do so to the contrary of their original intent—an “is”
versus “ought” scenario. As Van Hooft, Born, Taris, van der Flier,
and Blonk (2005) summarized the issue, “If the delay in action
were intended, we would not regard it to be procrastination.
Therefore, trait procrastination can be viewed as a moderator in the
relation between implementation intentions and behavior” (p.
244). Failing to act upon one’s intentions is quintessentially self-
regulatory failure (Rachlin, 2000), almost the definition of low
self-control.
Outcomes
To the degree that people are self-interested, self-regulatory
failure is associated with diminished overall utility, in terms of
both mood and performance. Conceptually, procrastination is
strongly related to conscientiousness, which itself is consistently
linked to better performance (Barrick & Mount, 2003; Hurtz &
Donovan, 2000). Consequently, procrastinators should tend to be
worse off in terms of both how they feel and what they achieve.
Each of these outcomes is discussed in more detail.
Mood
Procrastination has long been viewed as a way of temporarily
evading anxiety that unfortunately becomes compounded when
later faced (Mayers, 1946; Solomon & Rothblum, 1984). Thus
procrastination may initially improve mood but should worsen it
later. This opens the possibility of a deviation-amplifying loop,
specifically a depression spiral (Lindsley, Brass, & Thomas,
1995). Given that depression may lead to procrastination and can
be characterized as an extended period of negative affect, a poor
mood itself may not only result from procrastination but also
create it.
Performance
Although it is argued that procrastination leads to poorer per-
formance, some people report using procrastination as perfor-
mance-enhancing strategy; it helps get them to marshal their
resources to cope with an oncoming deadline (Chissom & Iran-
Nejad, 1992; Tice & Baumeister, 1997). However, if procrastina-
tion is irrational as well as representative of low conscientiousness,
this “last-ditch” effort should tend to be less successful than efforts
made well before the last minute. As with mood, poor performance
70
STEEL
permits the possibility of reciprocal relationships, such as self-
efficacy-related failure spirals (Lindsley et al., 1995). That is,
procrastination may lead to poorer performance, which lowers
self-efficacy, which in turn leads to more procrastination.
Demographics
It is unlikely that any personality trait is homogenously distrib-
uted throughout a population. Fortunately, researchers have con-
sistently provided the information needed to evaluate three possi-
ble demographic moderators of procrastination: age, gender, and
year.
Age
People should procrastinate less as they age and learn. As
O’Donoghue and Rabin (1999) concluded, “Many people who
procrastinate only moderately do so not because of intrinsic self-
control, but because they have developed schemes to overcome
procrastination” (p. 807). It is evident that people can learn to
avoid procrastination. Ainslie (1992) and Baumeister et al. (1994)
reviewed considerable research showing that people tend to pro-
crastinate less with repeated practice.
Gender
The anticipated influence of gender on procrastination is diffi-
cult to predict. Previous investigation into gender differences and
the related construct of self-control has found mixed results (Fein-
gold, 1994). Men may score higher, lower, or the same as women
depending on the measure. However, meta-analytic results do
show that girls score higher on effortful control than boys (Else-
Quest, Hyde, Goldsmith, & Van Hulle, 2006). On balance then,
one could expect procrastination to be weakly associated with
males.
Year
As previously mentioned, Kachgal et al. (2001) believed that
procrastination is on the rise. This would be consistent with the
increase in other forms of self-regulatory failure (e.g., obesity,
gambling, excessive debt) over the last 25 years (Griffiths &
Parke, 2002; Sivy, 2000; Wadden, Brownell, & Foster, 2002).
Because cohort effects in personality do appear to exist (e.g.,
Roberts, Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006) and because procrastina-
tion may be susceptible to environmental influences (e.g., task
aversiveness), such an increase is a definite possibility. However,
although self-reports provide the best available data for studying
the historical prevalence of procrastination, it is always possible
that any observed trend represents changes in cultural response
sets (e.g., a greater willingness to admit procrastination) rather
than reflecting a true change in underlying behavior.
TMT
As Van Eerde (2003) concluded in her review, “A more com-
prehensive theoretical framework of procrastination is still
needed” (p. 1412). One promising candidate is TMT (Steel &
Ko¨nig, 2006), a synthesis of traditional, well-established motiva-
tional formulations that include time as a fundamental term. An
integration of this type has been proposed by several authors
(Loewenstein & Prelec, 1992; Rachlin, 1990; Schouwenburg &
Groenewoud, 1997), including Akerlof (1991), the Nobel Prize-
winning economist. This synthesis addresses a major problem in
psychology, as Staats (1999) concluded: “The huge task facing
psychology—the task that will not go away and that, until faced,
will sentence psychology to the ranks of ‘would-be science’—is
that of unification, of weaving threads together” (p. 8). Similarly,
as Zeidner, Boekaerts, and Pintrich (2000) indicated specifically
for the self-regulatory literature, “The fragmentation and disparate,
but overlapping, lines of research within the self-regulation do-
main have made any attempt at furthering our knowledge an
arduous task” (p. 753).
4
Elements of TMT are derived primarily from expectancy theory
and hyperbolic discounting, although it can be applied to need
theory, prospect theory, psychobiology, and goal setting theory. Its
simplest formulation is
Utility
E V
D
.
Utility refers to how desirable a task or choice is for an individual.
By definition, people pursue whatever behavior has the highest
utility. As the numerator of the equation indicates, activities that
are high in expectancy (E) and value (V) should be more desirable.
The denominator of the equation captures the element of time.
Enjoyable activities that are immediately realizable (D), that have
a short delay, should be more highly valued. As delay becomes
large, utility necessarily shrinks. refers to the person’s sensitivity
to delay, and the larger becomes, the greater is the sensitivity. To
apply the equation to punishments rather than rewards, merely take
its reciprocal. In other words, people prefer their punishers to be
distant, unlikely, and small.
Figure 1 illustrates how TMT can account for procrastination. It
maps the changing levels of utility, the desire to perform, for
Thomas Delay. He is a college student who has been assigned an
essay on September 15th, the start of a semester, due on December
15
th
, when the course ends. To simplify matters, Tom has two
choices over the course of his semester: studying or socializing.
Tom likes to socialize, but he likes to get good grades even more.
However, because the positive component of socializing is perpet-
ually in the present, it maintains a uniformly high utility evalua-
tion. The reward of writing is initially temporally distant, dimin-
ishing its utility. Only toward the deadline do the effects of
discounting decrease, and writing becomes increasingly likely. In
this example, the switch in motivational rank occurs on December
3rd, leaving just 12 days for concentrated effort.
To demonstrate TMT’s validity, each of its four components
should show strong correlations with procrastination, as shown in
Table 1. To begin with, expectancy is most strongly represented by
self-efficacy, which is a broader but closely related concept (Ban-
dura, 1997). As is typical in the procrastination literature, self-
efficacy is assessed primarily for the academic and work domains.
Second, value is represented by three major variables. It is directly
expressed by task aversiveness. The more unpleasant a task, the
more likely one will be to put it off. Also, need for achievement
4
For further integration of TMT (i.e., an expectancy value-type theory)
within a control theory framework, see Vancouver and Day (2005).
71
PROCRASTINATION
should be negatively associated with procrastination. Those high in
the need for achievement are more likely to enjoy working for its
own sake. Similarly, boredom proneness should be positively
associated, because boredom makes work less pleasant. Of note,
neuroticism is not expected to affect procrastination. For anxiety to
have an effect, according to TMT, it must differentially affect
some tasks and not others. For the example of Thomas Delay (see
Figure 1), free-floating anxiety will decrease the utility of writing
but will also drop the utility of socializing by an equal amount,
leaving the intersection between the two lines unchanged.
Figure 1. Graph of a student’s utility estimation for socializing versus writing an essay over the course of a
semester.
Table 1
Expected Procrastination Relationships With Variables Related to Expectancy, Value, Sensitivity
to Delay, and Delay That Further Validate Temporal Motivation Theory
Construct Theoretical connection Relationship
Expectancy
Self-efficacy Represents the belief that one has the
capability to successfully complete
a range of tasks.
Negative
Value
Task aversiveness By definition, unpleasant tasks have
low value.
Positive
Need for achievement Helps to create more pleasure in
accomplishment.
Negative
Boredom proneness Increases the likelihood that a broad
range of life’s tasks will be found
tedious.
Positive
Sensitivity to delay
Distractibility, impulsiveness, lack of self-control All three of these variables are
empirically related to sensitivity to
delay.
Positive
Age Sensitivity to delay tends to decrease
with age.
Negative
Delay
Timing of rewards and punishment Emphasizing the focus of past
research, delay is operationalized
as the delay for rewards.
Positive
Organized Helps with the creation of proximal
goals.
Negative
Intention–action Gap Represents a failure to later act upon
intentions.
Positive
72
STEEL
Third, several variables should be associated with sensitivity to
delay. The individual difference variables of distractibility, impul-
siveness, and self-control are all associated with (Ainslie, 1975;
Madden, Petry, Badger, & Bickel, 1997; Ostaszewski, 1996, 1997;
Petry, 2001; Richards, Zhang, Mitchell, & de Wit, 1999). As people
become more impulsive or distractible, the likelihood that they will
procrastinate should increase. Also, age should be negatively cor-
related with procrastination, because Green, Fry, and Myerson
(1994) found that temporal discounting tends to decrease with age.
Fourth, delay is directly expressed by timing of rewards and
punishments. Procrastinators should work very hard, but only just
before the deadline. Furthermore, organization, especially as rep-
resented by goal setting (Steel & Ko¨nig, 2006), may effectively
shorten the delays by the creation of proximal goals, thus increas-
ing work effort. In addition, a necessary outcome of hyperbolic
time discounting is an intention–action gap (e.g., Loewenstein &
Elster, 1992; Read, 2001). When choices are made regarding distal
courses of action, the effect of delay is minimal. Our decisions,
consequently, tend to be more rational, reflecting just the magni-
tude of reward. As time progresses, however, delays shorten, and
their effects become more pronounced. Consequently, people’s
original intentions can suddenly change, and they can find them-
selves pursuing smaller but more readily realizable rewards. Figure
2, using TMT, shows how intentions to spend or save money (as
represented by the utility concept along the y-axis) can switch
merely as a function of delay, where t1 and t2 represent when the
benefits of spending and saving can be respectively realized.
Aside from this convergent validation, this meta-analysis pro-
vides considerable discriminant validity for TMT as well. There
are strong theoretical traditions suggesting that procrastination is
due to neurotic or rebellious elements, upon which much of clin-
ical practice is based. TMT indicates that these other variables
should not be associated or at most be weakly associated with
procrastination. Consequently, positing a lack of a relationship is
also a strong test of the theory.
Method
Article Search
Explorations into procrastination have cut across a variety of fields,
including psychology, sociology, political science, and economics, requir-
ing a broad search to gather the appropriate publications. As an initial
resource, the Procrastination Research Group (2006) has attempted to
maintain a list of articles, chapters, books, and dissertations on procrasti-
nation and maintains a copy on the Web. Although admirably extensive,
this list is incomplete, especially in regard to articles from the fields further
from psychology. To supplement this list, I took the following steps.
First, several databases were searched. For all available years to present,
the computer databases of ABI/INFORM, EconLit, ERIC, MEDLINE,
PsycINFO, ProQuest Digital Dissertations, and the Academy of Manage-
ment’s online Article Retrieval System were explored, primarily with the
keywords procrastination, dynamic inconsistency, temporal discounting,
and hyperbolic discounting.
Second, the Social Sciences Citation Index and the Web of Science were
searched for all publications that cited an article regarding procrastination
assessment. Specifically, these measures included Academic Procrastina-
tion Scale (Milgram & Toubiana, 1999), Adult Inventory of Procrastination
(McCown & Johnson, 1989), Aitken Procrastination Inventory (Aitken,
1982), Decisional Procrastination Questionnaires (DPQI, DPQII; Mann,
1982; Mann, Burnett, Radford, & Ford, 1997), General Procrastination
Scale (Lay, 1986), Procrastination Assessment Scale—Students (Solomon
& Rothblum, 1984), Procrastination Log—Behavior (Lopez & Wambach,
1982), Procrastination Self-Statement Inventory (Grecco, 1984), Test Pro-
crastination Questionnaire (Kalechstein, Hocevar, Zimmer, & Kalechstein,
1989), and Tuckman Procrastination Scale (Tuckman, 1991).
Third, if an author was found to have published more than one article on
procrastination, the author was contacted when possible. This was done to
uncover individual research programs on procrastination (i.e., “file drawer”
problem).
Fourth, once procrastination-focused references were obtained, each
publication’s reference list was also examined for other publications.
Masters and doctoral dissertations were included in this review as well as
unpublished works, when the requisite author was reachable and respon-
sive. Foreign-language articles were also included. In total, 553 sources
were initially identified for review.
Usable data included effect sizes involving a measure of procrastination
that are expressed as bivariate correlations or as a statistic from which a
correlation is derivable (e.g., t score, d score or F score). After exclusion
of those studies that mentioned procrastination peripherally or failed to
provide data (e.g., counseling case studies of procrastination), this review
considers 216 separate works: 7 book chapters, 7 conference proceedings,
3 unpublished papers, 5 electronic sources, 141 journal articles, and 53
theses. In total, 691 independent correlations are reported. All studies were
double coded, and discrepancies were resolved to ensure accuracy. Mea-
sures were sorted into their appropriate traits and categories through
analytic discussion (e.g., by reviewing the scale description and items).
Figure 2. Preference reversal between spending and saving as a function of time remaining to cash bonus and
hyperbolic discounting. t1 and t2 represent when the benefits of spending and saving can be respectively realized.
73
PROCRASTINATION
Where consensus could not be reached, measures were excluded. A list
reflecting how all measures were sorted is available on request.
In addition to study results that can be reduced to single bivariate
correlations and consequently meta-analytic summary, procrastination has
been examined with a wide variety of other methodologies. These include
longitudinal and experimental research designs, as well as statistical tech-
niques such as structural equation modeling and factor analysis. Also used
was survey research regarding why people procrastinate and hypothetical
scenarios regarding where and how people typically would report procras-
tination. This body of research provides further insights and is incorporated
in this review.
Meta-Analytic Method
The summary of the results primarily follows the Hunter and Schmidt
(1990) psychometric meta-analytic procedure. It is designed for estimating
the mean effect size and the amount of residual variance in observed scores
after considering artifacts, usually sampling error and unreliability. Mean
effects sizes are expressed as correlations, consequently requiring the
conversion of t scores, d scores, and F scores when necessary and possible.
For all variables, corrections were used for dichotomizing a continuous
score, uneven splits, and range restriction, as well as range enhancement,
which is similar to range restriction except that one selects only extreme
scores. When a study used multiple measures of procrastination or of
another target variable, these were averaged so that only one independent
correlation was included in the analysis.
The confidence interval refers to the precision with which the expected
mean effect is measured; consistent with the random effects model, the
heterogeneous form is used here (Whitener, 1990). The credibility interval
refers to the limits within which an observed effect will likely be in any
particular population, that is, the degree of generalizability. It is based on
the residual variance after sampling error (i.e., SD
r
) and, in this study,
unreliability (i.e., SD
) are accounted for. Large credibility intervals indi
-
cate the presence of moderator effects.
The meta-analytic method used here does differ from that of Hunter and
Schmidt (1990) in one respect. Their equation for estimating SD
r
(i.e.,
moderator effect, between-studies variance), which determines the width of
the credibility intervals, tends to underestimate as the number of studies
decreases (Cornwell & Ladd, 1993; Hall & Brannick, 2002; Steel &
Kammeyer-Mueller, 2002). This bias is primarily due to use of the sample
size-weighted mean correlation in place of true , which, if it could be
obtained, would give a less biased finding. Brannick (2001) has offered a
simple fix to this problem that is consistent with the random effects model
and other variance estimates (e.g., the standard deviation): multiply the
original variance figure by K/(K 1). This correction is used.
Finally, for estimating the effects of unreliability, Hunter and Schmidt
(1990) suggested that the reliability of scales may be obtained from studies
other than those used in any specific analysis. Consequently, the reliability
of each measure for each study was based upon the sample size-weighted
average of all studies using that scale within this meta-analysis. When no
study provided the needed reliability, the sample size-weighted average of
similar measures was used. This allowed the reliability correction to be
conducted on an individual study level rather than through artifact distri-
bution. As is typical, refers to the reliability-corrected, sample size-
weighted, mean effect size.
Moderator Search
Although it is unlikely that all of the variance in results can be accounted
for, it can be substantially reduced through a moderator search. Wortman
(1994) has recommended, at a minimum, investigating differences in
methodology. On this point there is little variance, with most studies using
a correlational design based on self-reports. This leads to the possibility of
system-wide monomethod bias (i.e., Campbell & Fiske, 1959), although
this has been addressed in specific studies (e.g., Scher & Osterman, 2002;
Steel et al., 2001), with effects ranging from none to weak depending upon
the variable examined (e.g., self-reports generate very similar results to
other reports). Still, several methodological variables can be considered. As
is typical in many research venues, most of the studies used young
university students. To address whether this is a limitation to the general-
izability of the findings, I conducted a moderator search on the basis of age
of participant. In addition, the studies were coded according to whether the
samples represented student, general, or adolescent/child populations. It is
also possible that some studies were conducted more carefully than others.
Because the difficulty of estimating study quality is extreme (Wortman,
1994), it is fortunate that this issue is more relevant for experimentally
based meta-analyses. Most of the results here are based on a relatively
straightforward correlational design, and quality should not have a sub-
stantial impact. Still, study results were coded as being from journals and
nonjournals as well as published and nonpublished, with the expectation
that journal and published articles, on average, are of better quality. Also,
extreme correlations were examined to determine if they represented
outliers, as per Huffcutt and Arthur (1995). Studies that had a sample-
adjusted meta-analytic deviancy of four or higher were excluded from the
analysis, although at times it was possible to check and correct such
extreme scores with the lead author. In this way, two typographical errors
were detected in which the sign of the correlation had been reversed in
print.
Ultimately, the impact of methodological differences was minimal.
Neither age, nor journal status, nor group significantly moderated any
relationships. Publication bias was detected, but for only two of the
relationships, neuroticism and irrational beliefs. Published works tended to
have .06 and .09 higher correlations for neuroticism and irrational beliefs,
respectively, than unpublished. There was one other detectable source of
variance: the measures used. This is a common issue during meta-analysis
(Doty & Glick, 1998), as similar, although not identical, indices were
grouped together to reduce redundancy. For example, the average disat-
tenuated correlation among the procrastination measures was .70, which
reflects substantial similarity, justifying aggregation, but also possible
differences. To determine whether different scales or tests used had a
substantive effect, I conducted the following moderator searches: impul-
sive versus nonimpulsive neuroticism, perfectionism versus irrational be-
liefs, extraversion versus positive affect, boredom proneness versus sen-
sation seeking, and need for achievement versus intrinsic motivation.
There are a variety of techniques for detecting these possible moderators
during meta-analysis. Recent work by Steel and Kammeyer-Mueller (2002)
indicated that weighted least squares (WLS) regression provides the most
accurate results. Consequently, WLS is used here, with categorical vari-
ables dummy coded. As recommended (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1989), anal-
ysis is limited to when there are at least five cases (K) per moderator
variable. Results are reported where statistically significant ( p .01).
Results
The meta-analytic results are reported in the same subsections
used in the literature review and are summarized in Tables 2–6.
Also reported in these subsections are the results from other
methodologies (e.g., experiments, surveys).
Task Nature and Procrastination
Two task characteristics are thought to affect procrastination.
First, people tend to favor tasks that are more pleasant in the short
term, even if they are detrimental to themselves in the long term.
Second, the more intrinsically unpleasant a task is, the more likely
people are to avoid doing it. However, only task aversiveness
proved amenable to meta-analytic summary, and its results are
reported in Table 2.
74
STEEL
Timing of Rewards and Punishments
Although research has been performed on temporal effects spe-
cific to procrastination, it has not been correlational and thus is not
summarized meta-analytically. Still, the results do support a strong
relationship. Mazur (1996, 1998) experimentally investigated pro-
crastination in animals, finding that pigeons will indeed put off
doing a small amount of work now for a delayed reward, in favor
of having to do much more work later for the same result. Also,
self-report methodology has indicated the importance of temporal
proximity. When students were asked how much they would
procrastinate under various conditions, they indicated that their
procrastination would diminish as the task neared completion or as
a deadline approached (Schouwenburg & Groenewoud, 2001;
Strongman & Burt, 2000).
Task Aversiveness
The importance of task aversiveness in triggering procrastina-
tion has received strong support from a variety of research meth-
odologies. To this end, several researchers administered the Pro-
crastination Assessment Scale—Students (Solomon & Rothblum,
1984). Part of this instrument asks respondents to indicate why, out
of 26 possible reasons, they might procrastinate in writing a term
paper. Factor analysis of responses consistently generates a dimen-
sion best described as “aversiveness of task,” with its most popular
item, “Really dislike writing term papers,” endorsed by 45% of the
respondents (Kachgal et al., 2001; K. E. Peterson, 1987; Rawlins,
1995; Solomon & Rothblum, 1984). Using comparable formats,
several researchers found that two top-rated reasons for procrasti-
nating before performing a task were that the task was unpleasant
or that it was boring and uninteresting (E. M. Anderson, 2001;
Briody, 1980; Froehlich, 1987; Haycock, 1993). Using an open-
ended format, Ferrari (1993a) elicited a similar reason why people
shopped late for Christmas: They disliked shopping.
In addition, aversiveness has been investigated for several dif-
ferent types of tasks, including personal projects, daily tasks,
academic tasks (such as publication), and job search behaviors.
This research has used a variety of methodologies, including the
more rigorous formats of time sampling and daily logs (Ferrari &
Scher, 2000; Pychyl et al., 2000). Consistently and strongly, the
more people dislike a task, the more they consider it effortful or
anxiety producing, the more they procrastinate (r .40, K 8).
Interestingly, two moderators of this effect have been reported.
First, aversiveness effects intensify if the projects are short term
(Lay, 1987, 1990). Second, this relationship between procrastina-
tion behavior and task aversiveness is moderated by conscientious-
ness, with low conscientiousness apparently increasing the effect
of task pleasantness on procrastination (Lay & Brokenshire, 1997;
see also Somers, 1992). The correlation between trait procrastina-
tion and finding tasks aversive in general is also strong and stable
(r .40, K 10). This correlation indicates that one possible
reason why some people procrastinate more is simply that they
find more of life’s chores and duties aversive.
5
Finally, several researchers have considered what type of task
adversiveness is best correlated with procrastination. Jobs charac-
terized by lower autonomy, task significance, and feedback were
likely to increase decisional procrastination (Lonergan & Maher,
2000), although they were less related to behavioral procrastina-
tion (Coote-Weymann, 1988; Galue´, 1990). Instead, behavioral
procrastination was most strongly associated with the aversive task
components of frustration, resentment, and, in particular, boredom
(Ackerman & Gross, 2005; Blunt & Pychyl, 2000; Briody, 1980;
Haycock, 1993; Puffer, 1989; Strongman & Burt, 2000). Similar
results were found with experimental methodology (Sene´cal,
Lavoie, & Koestner, 1997; Sigall, Kruglanski, & Fyock, 2000).
The more boring and difficult a task was made, the more likely
people were to delay doing it.
Individual Differences
Individual differences is the largest of the sections, dealing with
the results for a wide range of variables. Tables 3–5 meta-
analytically summarize all of these findings.
Neuroticism
The results for neuroticism and its facets are summarized in
Table 3. Despite generating a weak positive correlation (r .24,
K 59), it is at best very weakly associated with procrastination.
To begin with, a weak positive correlation between neuroticism
and procrastination should be expected because of method effects
alone. Those who are more anxious or have more negative affect
tend to be harsher judges of their own behavior, but are not
necessarily poorer performers (Carver & Scheier, 1990; Ellis,
1989; Sarason, Sarason, & Pierce, 1990). That neuroticism appears
to be essentially unrelated to observed procrastination (Steel et al.,
2001; or fear of failure, Ackerman & Gross, 2005) supports this
assertion.
5
Ottens (1982) made this observation early on, noting that “Procrasti
-
nators perceive task situations in such ways so as to exacerbate their
aversiveness” (p. 371).
Table 2
Summary of Procrastination’s Correlational Findings: Task Aversiveness
Construct KN r SD
r
r 95% interval
SD
95% interval
Confidence Credibility Confidence Credibility
Task procrastination 8 938 .40 .13 .30, .51 .14, .67 .44 .14 .32, .55 .15, .72
Trait procrastination 10 1,069 .40 .12 .31, .49 .17, .63 .46 .14 .36, .57 .19, .73
Note. Task procrastination refers to whether anyone would procrastinate about performing a specific task if it was aversive. Trait procrastination refers
to whether procrastinators find more of life’s tasks (e.g., washing dishes, paying bills) aversive.
75
PROCRASTINATION
Furthermore, neuroticism’s connection to procrastination ap-
pears to be primarily due to impulsiveness, not anxiety. Results
analyzed at the facet level indicated that neuroticism’s connection
to procrastination was “largely a matter of impulsiveness” (Schou-
wenburg & Lay, 1995, p. 488; see also J. L. Johnson & Bloom,
1995) and that it added little unique variance over conscientious-
ness. More recently, structural equation modeling analysis indi-
cated that neuroticism has no direct links to procrastination and
that any relationship is fully mediated by conscientiousness (D. G.
Lee, Kelly, & Edwards, 2006). Segmenting the results specific to
neuroticism by measure provides support for this conclusion: The
Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1975),
the Berkeley Personality Profile (Harary & Donahue, 1994), and
the Big Five Inventory (John, Donahue, & Kentle, 1991) do not
nest impulsiveness with neuroticism to the same extent as do the
NEO Five-Factor Inventory (Costa & McCrae, 1992) or the Ey-
senck Personality Inventory (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1964). Exami-
nation of the studies that used the nonimpulsive-related measures
suggests a mean correlation of only .16, whereas examination of
those that used the impulsive measures suggests a mean correlation
of .33. With WLS regression, this is a significant difference, F(1,
18) 47.84, p .001.
Finally, there are two other anxiety-related issues. First, Mc-
Cown, Petzel, and Rupert (1987) reported a curvilinear relation-
ship between neuroticism and procrastination that explained ap-
proximately 61% of the variance. This is an extremely strong
finding but is not equally robust. Unfortunately, no supporting
result has been reported in any subsequent work (J. L. Johnson &
Bloom, 1995; Schouwenburg & Lay, 1995; Steel et al., 2001), and
the original work of McCown et al. could be considered anoma-
lous. Second, Blatt and Quinn (1967) argued that procrastination
was due to a form of anxiety, specifically fear of death. Testing
this, Donovan (1995) found a correlation of .28 between procras-
tination and the Death Anxiety Scale, which is not significantly
different from the results obtained for general anxiety.
Irrational beliefs. Although clinical work has stressed that
irrational beliefs are a major source of procrastination, results have
been irregular and often weak. Meta-analytic review indicates that
the average correlation is .17 (K 71). However, significantly
weaker as well as stronger results have been obtained with two
different specific forms of irrational beliefs.
With WLS regression, self- and other perfectionism proved to
be much lower, F(1, 67) 11.53, p .001, than other forms of
irrational beliefs. Only socially prescribed perfectionism, in which
people believe that significant others have set standards for them,
is even weakly related to procrastination (r .18; analyzed with
other fear of failure constructs). According to Haycock (1993),
only 7% of people surveyed reported perfectionism as contributing
to their procrastination. In addition, the Almost Perfect Scale
(Slaney, Ashby, & Trippi, 1995) of perfectionism has four items
related to procrastination. As found by Enns and Cox (2002) and
Slaney, Rice, and Ashby (2002), perfectionists generally scored
the same or lower than nonperfectionists on procrastination, the
exception being perfectionists who were also seeking clinical
counseling.
However, WLS regression indicates that somewhat stronger
results were obtained with more general irrational belief scales,
F(1, 67) 5.73, p .02, such as the Self-Critical Cognition Scale
(Ishiyama & Munson, 1993). Other research has also indicated that
irrational beliefs do appear to be the source of at least some
procrastination. Solomon and Rothblum (1984) extracted a fear of
failure dimension from a factor analysis of 26 procrastination
reasons, a finding that has been repeatedly replicated (Brownlow
& Reasinger, 2000; Clark & Hill, 1994; Harrington, 2005; Mil-
gram, Marshevsky, & Sadeh, 1995; Onwuegbuzie, 2000b; K. E.
Peterson, 1987; Rawlins, 1995; Schouwenburg, 1992). The dimen-
sion consists of evaluation anxiety, low self-confidence, and per-
fectionism. Its most popular item was endorsed by approximately
17% of respondents (Kachgal et al., 2001; Solomon & Rothblum,
1984). A typical item is “Were concerned you wouldn’t meet your
own expectations.” Generating a similar finding, although using an
open-ended questionnaire, Briody (1980) and Haycock (1993)
found respectively that 16% and 7% of people gave fear of failure
as a reason. This discrepancy between correlational and frequency
data likely indicates a form of counterbalancing; people may also
cite fear of failure as a reason for not procrastinating. Using an
experimental design, Sene´cal et al. (1997) found further support.
Procrastinators are more likely to put off difficult and boring tasks
when they expect to be evaluated.
Low self-efficacy and low self-esteem. Both variables were
associated with procrastination, both in the expected direction and
to the expected degree. Self-efficacy showed the strongest rela-
Table 3
Summary of Procrastination’s Correlational Findings: Neuroticism and Related Traits
Construct KN r SD
r
r 95% Interval
SD
95% Interval
Confidence Credibility Confidence Credibility
Neuroticism 59 10,720 .24 .07 .21, .26 .10, .37 .28 .08 .25, .31 .12, .44
Impulsive unrelated 10 2,366 .16 .00 .14, .18 .16, .16 .19 .00 .17, .22 .19, .19
Impulsive related 10 1,911 .33 .04 .28, .37 .26, .40 .37 .06 .32, .42 .26, .48
All irrational beliefs 71 13,137 .17 .10 .14, .20 .03, .36 .20 .12 .17, .24 .03, .44
Irrational beliefs 14 2,384 .27 .11 .20, .34 .04, .49 .35 .14 .26, .44 .08, .62
Fear of failure
a
57 10,785 .18 .08 .15, .20 .02, .33 .21 .10 .18, .24 .02, .40
Perfectionism
b
24 3,884 .03 .11 .09, .02 .26, .19 .04 .14 .11, .03 .31, .23
Self-efficacy 39 6,994 .38 .09 .42, .34 .57, .19 .46 .12 .51, .42 .70, .22
Self-esteem 33 5,748 .27 .06 .31, .24 .39, .16 .32 .07 .36, .28 .46, .19
Self-handicapping 16 2,784 .46 .09 .40, .51 .27, .64 .61 .13 .54, .68 .35, .87
Depression 56 10,728 .28 .08 .26, .31 .12, .45 .34 .10 .31, .38 .14, .54
a
Includes fear of failure, evaluation anxiety, social perfectionism, and self-consciousness.
b
Includes self and other perfectionism.
76
STEEL
tionship, with meta-analytic review giving its average correlation
as .38 (K 39). Two other studies support the importance of
self-efficacy. Briody (1980) found 8% of respondents stating that
low self-confidence was a cause of procrastination. Micek (1982)
found that procrastinators were more likely to give up on their
efforts when encountering an obstacle (r .40). For self-esteem,
the average correlation was similarly negative, but weaker at .27
(K 33).
Self-handicapping. The average correlation between self-
handicapping and procrastination is .46 (K 16). As additional
evidence, procrastinators tended to spend more time on projects if
they were likely to fail, whereas the opposite relationship was seen
for nonprocrastinators (Lay, 1990). Similarly, procrastinators were
experimentally shown to enter voluntarily into conditions or to
engage in activities that self-handicapped their performance on
evaluative tests (Ferrari, 1991c; Ferrari & Tice, 2000). However,
Lay, Knish, and Zanatta (1992) found several divergent relation-
ships between self-handicappers and procrastinators, indicating
that although the two overlap conceptually, they are different.
Although both self-handicappers and procrastinators may delay
their efforts, self-handicappers are more likely to engage in other
forms of self-handicapping (e.g., avoid practicing for a test).
Depression. As summarized, depression is associated with
procrastination, demonstrating an average correlation of .28 (K
56). Aside from depression in general, several studies have fo-
cused on one of its symptoms, lethargy or lack of energy. Tired-
ness is one of the top three reasons that students give for putting
off work (Strongman & Burt, 2000). Approximately 28% of stu-
dents indicated “Didn’t have enough energy to begin the task” as
a source of procrastination (Kachgal et al., 2001; K. E. Peterson,
1987; Solomon & Rothblum, 1984). Notably, this item was also
associated with others indicating task aversiveness.
Other research regarding the relationship between procrastina-
tion and pessimism or optimism has indicated that this facet of
depression may be too complex to be described in a general linear
fashion. Although the results for pessimism were not significantly
different from those for general depression, Sigall et al.’s (2000)
experimental investigation indicated that it is possible to be too
optimistic. They found that extremely optimistic participants were
more likely to procrastinate in initiating an aversive task. An
examination of their expectations indicated that they thought they
could delay and still finish before the deadline. This finding is
similar to Day et al.’s (2000) description of the socially active
optimistics, who are confident in their ability to delay their work
successfully until later.
Openness to Experience: Intelligence/Aptitude
The results for openness to experience and intelligence/aptitude
are summarized in Table 4. Openness to experience shows a scant
correlation of .03 (K 16). Similarly, the relationship for intelli-
gence/aptitude is low at .03 (K 14).
Agreeableness
Meta-analytically, the average correlation of agreeableness is
.12 (K 24), as per Table 4. However, Solomon and Rothblum
(1984) did extract through factor analysis a dimension called
rebellion against control when they examined reasons for procras-
tinating. Still, its most popular item, “You resented people setting
deadlines for you,” was endorsed by less than 5% of respondents
(see also Kachgal et al., 2001).
6
Extraversion
The results for extraversion and its facets are summarized in
Table 4. For extraversion specifically, they are extremely weak,
with a correlation of .12 (K 27). Furthermore, findings spe-
cific to positive affect may potentially show more consistent
results, because positive affect emphasizes the energy rather than
the impulsivity component of extraversion. Accordingly, confining
the meta-analysis to positive affect reveals a correlation of .17
(K 12). As WLS regression indicates, it is marginally stronger,
F(1, 28) 4.34, p .04, than measures specific to trait extraver-
sion (r ⫽⫺.11, K 18). On the other hand, there appear to be
aspects of extraversion that lead to procrastination. McCown et al.
(1989), using principal components analysis, described a type of
6
Of note, Rawlins (1995) found that this was a more popular reason for
very young adolescents, with 26% highly endorsing this item. Also, Galue´
(1990) and Aldarondo (1993) extracted procrastination dimensions similar
to rebellion, that is autonomy and passive aggressive respectively.
Table 4
Summary of Procrastination’s Correlational Findings: Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Extraversion
Construct KN r SD
r
r 95% Interval
SD
95% Interval
Confidence Credibility Confidence Credibility
Openness to experience:
Intelligence/aptitude
Openness to experience 16 3,612 .03 .08 .02, .08 .14, .20 .04 .10 .03, .10 .16, .24
Intelligence/aptitude 14 2,151 .03 .07 .03, .09 .11, .17 .03 .08 .03, .10 .13, .20
Agreeableness 24 5,001 .12 .06 .08, .15 .01, .23 .14 .07 .19, .10 .28, .01
Extraversion
Extraversion 27 5,032 .12 .05 .15, .09 .21, .03 .14 .05 .18, .10 .25, .04
Extraversion 18 3,951 .11 .04 .14, .07 .19, .03 .13 .04 .17, .08 .21, .04
Positive affect 12 1,934 .17 .05 .23, .12 .27, .07 .21 .06 .27, .15 .33, .08
Impulsiveness 22 4,005 .41 .10 .37, .46 .23, .60 .52 .11 .46, .58 .30, .75
Sensation seeking 11 2,055 .17 .12 .09, .25 .07, .41 .21 .15 .11, .32 .08, .51
Boredom proneness 3 408 .40 .11 .25, .54 .18, .61 .51 .14 .32, .69 .24, .77
77
PROCRASTINATION
procrastinator as extraverted and outgoing. Similarly, Briody
(1980), Froehlich (1987), Haycock (1993), and Strongman and
Burt (2000) all indicated that a common distraction, social activ-
ities with friends, facilitates procrastination. Finally, Sene´cal,
Julien, and Guay (2003) found a correlation of .30 between pro-
crastination and a measure of role conflict because of interpersonal
relationships.
Impulsiveness. Evidence has suggested that impulsiveness
plays a solid role in procrastination. As reviewed, the average
correlation between procrastination and impulsiveness is .41 (K
22). Other research using related criteria has provided additional
confirmation. Procrastinators tend not to have a future temporal
orientation (Lasane & Jones, 2000; Specter & Ferrari, 2000) and
tend to dislike structure or routine (Somers, 1992). Also, they tend
not to be stimulus screeners (Lay, 1987). Nonscreeners are more
sensitive to the pleasantness of tasks and are thus more likely to be
impulsive. Qualitative analysis of procrastination has also indi-
cated that typically the decision to procrastinate is impulsive and
unplanned (Quarton, 1992). Finally, when asked how they prefer
to structure their daily work, procrastinators typically choose to
start with the more pleasurable tasks, while nonprocrastinators
prefer to sequence those last (Ko¨nig & Kleinmann, 2004).
Sensation seeking. Evidence has suggested that perhaps some
procrastination is motivated by sensation seeking, but not very
much. As summarized, the average correlation with procrastina-
tion is .17 (K 11). Additional findings in Kachgal et al.’s (2001)
and Solomon and Rothblum’s (1984) factor analyses suggested
that sensation seeking has only marginal importance. These studies
extracted a risk-taking dimension by examining the reasons for
procrastinating. It was not well endorsed, with only 6.4% of
students responding positively to its most popular item, “Looked
forward to the excitement of doing this task at the last minute.”
Likewise, Froehlich (1987) found that one of the lowest rated
reasons for procrastinating was “I like the excitement and chal-
lenge of doing things at the last minute.”
However, there is one caveat. As mentioned, task aversiveness
is strongly associated with procrastination, particularly if the task
is boring. Three of the studies on sensation seeking (Blunt &
Pychyl, 1998; Ferrari, 2000; Vodanovich & Rupp, 1999) dealt
specifically with boredom proneness, which shows a significantly
stronger relationship with procrastination according to WLS re-
gression, F(1, 9) 20.40, p .001, with r .40.
Conscientiousness
The results for conscientiousness and its facets are summarized
in Table 5. Several early studies have shown that there was some
connection between procrastination and competitiveness or super-
ego strength (Effert & Ferrari, 1989; Wessman, 1973). More recent
investigations using conscientiousness from the five-factor model
of personality have indicated that the average correlation is .62
(K 20). Of note, Scher and Osterman (2002) found a virtually
identical relationship when using other instead of self-reports.
In addition, once conscientiousness had been partialled out of
the correlations between procrastination and the other four trait
factors, virtually none of them reached either practical or statistical
significance (J. L. Johnson & Bloom, 1995; Schouwenburg & Lay,
1995). Also, Schouwenburg (1995a) factor analyzed several mea-
sures related to procrastination, conscientiousness, and neuroti-
cism. The procrastination and conscientiousness variables loaded
together, whereas those related to neuroticism loaded on a separate
dimension.
Self-control/self-discipline. Researchers have studied self-
discipline using a wide variety of self-control, organization, and
planning scales. Results, as reported in Table 5, indicate an aver-
age correlation of .58 (K 21). Other supporting research
includes Schouwenburg’s (1995a) factor analysis, which suggested
that self-discipline may be equivalent to trait procrastination or
that it is at least a proximal cause of procrastination behavior.
Similarly, procrastinators tend to choose short-term benefits over
long-term gains, reflecting a core component of poor self-
regulation (Tice & Baumeister, 1997).
Distractibility. Results firmly support the importance of dis-
tractibility. Its average correlation is large at .45 (K 13) as well
as extremely consistent, as indicated by the credibility intervals.
Haycock (1993) identified the availability of distractions as one of
the top reasons contributing to procrastination.
Organization. As expected, organization demonstrates a
strongly negative relationship. Results consistently indicated that
Table 5
Summary of Procrastination’s Correlational Findings: Conscientiousness and Intention–Action Gap
Construct KN r SD
r
r 95% Interval
SD
95% Interval
Confidence Credibility Confidence Credibility
Conscientiousness
Conscientiousness 20 4,012 .62 .05 .65, .60 .71, .53 .75 .06 .78, .72 .88, .62
Self-control 21 3,840 .58 .09 .62, .53 .76, .39 .73 .14 .79, .68 1.0, .46
Distractibility 13 2,232 .45 .09 .39, .51 .28, .62 .59 .11 .51, .66 .37, .81
Organization 25 4,757 .36 .10 .41, .31 .57, .15 .45 .14 .51, .39 .73, .18
Achievement motivation 34 6,171 .35 .11 .40, .31 .57, .14 .43 .13 .48, .38 .69, .16
Need for achievement 17 3,416 .44 .11 .50, .38 .66, .22 .55 .13 .62, .47 .81, .28
Intrinsic motivation 19 3,299 .26 .06 .31, .22 .39, .14 .32 .06 .37, .26 .44, .19
Intention–action gap
Dilatory behavior 16 3,059 .52 .07 .48, .56 .38, .66 .64 .08 .59, .69 .48, .80
Intention 8 1,017 .03 .12 .13, .08 .27, .21 .03 .14 .16, .09 .32, .25
Intention–action gap 6 533 .29 .00 .22, .36 .29, .29 .31 .00 .24, .38 .31, .31
78
STEEL
organization is antithetical to procrastination, with an average
correlation of .36 (K 25).
Achievement motivation. One of the first findings in the field
of procrastination is that procrastinators tend to have lower
achievement drives (Lum, 1960). As meta-analytically summa-
rized, need for achievement combined with intrinsic motivation
has an average correlation of .35 (K 34). In addition, Lay’s
(1987) efforts in typology extracted a type of procrastinator that he
termed the underachiever. However, achievement motivation is a
broader construct than intrinsic motivation. Accordingly, WLS
regression confirms that results are significantly different depend-
ing upon whether they deal with need for achievement or intrinsic
motivation, F(1, 34) 22.90, p .001. Results dealing specifi-
cally with need for achievement suggest an even higher correlation
of .44 (K 17).
Intention–action gap. Procrastination does appear to often be
involuntary, with procrastinators typically agreeing with the state-
ment, “No matter how much I try, I still put things off (r .64;
Stainton, 1993). Other research supports this assertion. To begin
with, several studies have compared procrastination with self-
reported work intentions over several time periods. The two vari-
ables are almost completely independent, and thus procrastinators
usually intend to work as hard as anyone else or harder (r ⫽⫺.03,
K 8). Given this typical lack of difference, researchers have
focused on how consistently procrastinators act upon these inten-
tions. One way this has been assessed is by administering procras-
tination measures in conjunction with a self-report intention–
action discrepancy measure, such as Kuhl’s (1994) state-oriented
hesitation scale or Schouwenburg’s (1992) dilatory behavior scale.
As Table 5 indicates, dilatory behavior correlates on average .52
with procrastination (K 16).
In addition, several researchers investigated this topic by mea-
suring the disparity between intended and actual work habits. As
Table 5 indicates, the average correlation was .29 (K 6). Of note,
the size of this gap is highly contingent on the time separating
intention and action. It increases the further ahead that procrasti-
nators plan their actions (i.e., 1 week versus 2; Steel, 2002a). On
the other hand, the gap decreases and even reverses as the deadline
begins to loom (Steel et al., 2001; Van Hooft et al., 2005). In the
final hour, it is the procrastinator who is doing more work than
intended.
Outcomes
Outcomes refer to the expected effects on utility, specifically a
poorer mood and worse performance. It is important to note that
these outcomes may still represent more distal causes of procras-
tination, possibly increasing depression or decreasing self-
efficacy, for example.
Effect on Mood
The empirical evidence concerning mood is not definitive.
Moods have the potential to show a relationship with procrastina-
tion where none may exist. Specifically, those in poorer moods are
more likely to indicate that they procrastinate, regardless of their
actual behavior (Carver & Scheier, 1990; Sarason et al., 1990;
Stainton, Lay, & Flett, 2000; Steel et al., 2001). More important,
moods change; procrastinators may feel remorse for their inactions
at any time, perhaps even after the experimental session or aca-
demic semester has ended. Consequently, if researchers tested
more frequently or possibly over longer time periods, a previously
undetected mood difference could easily appear. Because most of
the studies have examined mood over different sections of the
timeline, the direction of the relationship is expected to be incon-
sistent, and meta-analytic aggregation does not appear to be ad-
visable.
Supporting the importance of mood, Tice and colleagues re-
ported that procrastination could be motivated by mood repair
(Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000; Tice, Bratslavsky, & Baumeister,
2001). Students who were experimentally manipulated into an
unhappy mood were more likely to try lifting their spirits before
practicing for an informal math test. However, the long-term
success of this strategy seems doubtful, with Pychyl (1995) having
found a correlation of .46 between project guilt and project pro-
crastination.
More support for the importance of mood comes from research-
ers who have used repeated measures of state anxiety or mood over
the duration of an academic course. Student procrastinators tend to
be more anxious across the entire semester (Rothblum, Solomon,
& Murakami, 1986)
7
and tend to experience less stress early on,
but more stress later on and more stress overall (Tice & Baumeis-
ter, 1997). This last finding has been replicated in part, where the
relationship between procrastination and state agitation (i.e., anx-
iety) was observed but only either as an increase at the course end
(Assur, 2003; Lay & Schouwenburg, 1993) or as a decrease at the
course beginning (Towers & Flett, 2004). Similarly, employee
procrastinators tend to continue worrying about their work after
leaving the office (r .31; Van Eerde, 1998). Finally, Froehlich
(1987) and Haycock (1993) asked students retrospectively how
they felt after procrastinating, with over 80% of the responses
categorized as negative. Similarly, an online poll by the Procras-
tination Research Group (2005) that surveyed over 9,000 respon-
dents indicated that 94% find that procrastination has some neg-
ative effect on their happiness, with 18% indicating that the effect
is extremely negative.
Other researchers, however, indicated no significant relationship
between mood and procrastination. When the state anxiety of
students was examined just before and then during exams, no
relationship was detected between it and procrastination (Lay,
Edwards, Parker, & Endler, 1989; Lay & Silverman, 1996). Also,
student procrastinators did not become more agitated or dejected
after recollecting their study habits, indicating that their relative
lack of work was not particularly stressful to them (Lay, 1994).
Similarly, a study using experience-sampling methodology over a
5-day period did not find any significant relationship between
procrastination and negative mood (Pychyl et al., 2000), despite a
strong guilt relationship (r .42). Finally, countering Lay and
Schouwenburg’s (1993) results, Somers (1992) found no signifi-
cant association between mood and procrastination on the final day
of class.
7
Unfortunately, this study is less than decisive. It operationalized pro
-
crastination as delay in conjunction with negative affect, thus virtually
guaranteeing this effect. On the other hand, Beswick et al. (1988) reported
that the problem versus anxiety versions of their inventory correlated at
.89.
79
PROCRASTINATION
Poor Performance
The relationship between procrastination and performance is
similar in strength, though opposite in direction, to that seen for
conscientiousness and performance. Results, as summarized in
Table 6, indicate a weak but consistently negative relationship
between academic performance and procrastination. The average
correlation was .19 (K 41). As the credibility interval indi-
cates, procrastination is usually harmful, sometimes harmless, but
never helpful.
Other performance criteria confirm the dangers of procrastina-
tion. Consistently, procrastination shows negative correlations
with overall GPA, course GPA, final exam scores, and assignment
grades (see Table 6). Moving away from academic indicators,
Sirois (2004b) as well as Elliot (2002) investigated the self-
reported impact of procrastination on people’s health, finding
significant negative correlations of .16 and .22, respectively.
One major reason is that procrastinators tend to postpone getting
appropriate medical treatments and diagnostic tests (e.g., Colman,
Brod, Potter, Buesching, & Rowland, 2004; Morris et al., 1990;
White et al., 1994). Elliot found an even stronger negative rela-
tionship (.42) between procrastination and financial well being.
Similarly, Mehrabian (2000) found a significant correlation of
.26 between career/financial success and procrastination. Nota-
bly, evaluation of success was based on peer rather than self-
report.
Demographics
The demographic analyses are based on aggregating individual
level correlations but also include an examination at a group level.
Mean levels of procrastination were reported for 136 samples that
used one of six primary scales (e.g., Aitken Procrastination Inven-
tory, Procrastination Assessment Scale—Students); the analyses
are confined to this set, allowing the statistical control of measure-
ment differences. When a study used multiple procrastination
scales, each mean was retained, although the sample was divided
among each result to prevent over weighting.
These procrastination measures were converted into a common
five-point metric, dummy coded, and then entered first into a WLS
multiple regression analysis. The subsequent step was to enter the
variable of interest (e.g., age). Although individual-level data tend
to replicate at the group level (Steel & Ones, 2002), this is not a
necessary outcome (Ostroff, 1993). Meta-analytic results are sum-
marized in Table 6.
Age
Initial uncorrected results are reported in Table 6, showing that
indeed procrastination appears to decrease with age (r ⫽⫺.15,
K 16). However, these results suffer from extreme range re-
striction. Correcting with a standard deviation based on those of
age 12 and up (i.e., ␴⫽19.5 years; U.S. Census Bureau, 2000),
the findings become extremely strong (r ⫽⫺.48). Those in their
senior years are putting off very little.
The effect of age on procrastination was also analyzed on a
group level. The results, however, were not significant, R
2
.01,
F(1, 88) .54, p .47. This failure to replicate may be because
range restriction was still intense at the group level, where the
average mean age was 21.8 and the standard deviation was 4.6.
Gender
Only a weak relationship was expected between gender and
procrastination, and the results bear this out. After correction for
uneven splits, men do appear to procrastinate only slightly more
than women (r ⫽⫺.08, K 44). At a group level, there were 124
samples that reported the percentage of men that constitute the
sample, although the results were not significant at this level of
analysis, R
2
.01, F(1, 125) 1.86, p .18.
Year
Publication year for the reported samples with mean data spans
23 years, from 1982 to 2005. Using publication year to indicate
sample year, I conducted several analyses. After the different
procrastination measures were controlled for, year of publication
had a significant effect for data up to 2003, R
2
.06, F(1,
123) 7.81, p .006, B .027. However, including 2004 data
diminished this effect, R
2
.03, F(1, 132) 4.39, p .04, and
by 2005 it no longer was significant, R
2
.02, F(1, 135) 3.12,
p .08. There are several possible reasons for these results, such
as cohort effects. However, post hoc analysis indicates that they
are due to nationality. If the data from the United States, which
Table 6
Summary of Procrastination’s Correlational Findings: Poor Performance and Demographics
Construct KN r SD
r
r 95% Interval
SD
95% Interval
Confidence Credibility Confidence Credibility
Poor performance
Overall performance 41 7,447 .19 .09 .23, .16 .37, .01 .21 .10 .25, .17 .41, .01
GPA 19 4,075 .16 .07 .20, .12 .29, .03 .18 .07 .21, .13 .32, .04
Course GPA 10 2,067 .25 .03 .30, .21 .32, .19 .28 .03 .33, .23 .35, .21
Final exam 11 947 .17 .17 .29, .06 .50, .15 .19 .18 .31, .06 .54, .17
Assignments 13 1,973 .21 .13 .29, .12 .47, .06 .22 .15 .32, .13 .52, .07
Demographics
Uncorrected age 16 3,248 .15 .07 .20, .10 .29, .00 .16 .08 .21, .11 .32, .00
Corrected age 16 3,248 .48 .12 .70, .25 .71, .24 .51 .13 .75, .27 .77, .26
Gender 44 8,756 .08 .09 .12, .05 .27, .10 .09 .10 .13, .05 .29, .11
Note. For gender, male 1, female 2.
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STEEL
constitutes 65% of the results, are excluded, procrastination in the
rest of the world is increasing, R
2
.30, F(1, 43) 18.85, p
.001, B .046.
Discussion
Procrastination appears to reflect the human condition, because
it is presently widespread and has been reported for thousands of
years. It is also particularly interesting in that voluntarily delaying
an intended course of action despite the expectation of being worse
off for the delay is inherently risky or negative behavior. Further-
more, procrastination is conceptually linked to the conscientious-
ness trait, reflecting responsibility (i.e., the diligent fulfillment of
objectives). This makes procrastination especially important, be-
cause it can provide insight into the relationship of traits to
performance and motivation. As reviewed, there are theories sug-
gesting a relationship between procrastination and almost every
construct from perfectionism to rebelliousness, and most of these
theories have been tested. Efforts to understand procrastination
have been intensive, with hundreds of studies covering a wide
range of situations and variables. Thus, procrastination is ideal for
establishing self-regulation’s nomological web as well as for test-
ing TMT, both of which this article attempts to address.
Regarding procrastination’s nomological web, several strong
findings have emerged. Consistent with its conceptual foundation,
procrastination does appear to be representative of low conscien-
tiousness and self-regulatory failure. Corrected for unreliability, its
correlations were approximately .75, comparable and even oc-
casionally superior to correlations among conscientiousness mea-
sures themselves (Goldberg, 1990; Widiger & Trull, 1997). Im-
portantly, the corrected correlation with performance was very
close to that obtained by conscientiousness, around the mid .20s
(Barrick, Mount, & Judge, 2001). This indicates that procrastina-
tion largely, although not entirely, accounts for the relationship of
conscientiousness to performance. In addition, procrastination was
strongly associated with a host of related concepts: distractibility,
organization, achievement motivation, and an intention–action
gap.
Given this connection between procrastination and conscien-
tiousness, it is not surprising that procrastination shows weaker
correlations with other traits. Agreeableness and sensation seeking,
for example, generated low correlations, below .20. However, of
particular importance are neuroticism and its facets of irrational
beliefs and perfectionism. Repeatedly in the popular press and
counseling resources, irrational beliefs and perfectionism are taken
to be major causes of procrastination, as almost any self-help book
or Web site on the topic will illustrate. This belief has been
exacerbated by publication bias, where published works tend to
report higher correlations for neuroticism and irrational beliefs
than do unpublished works. Although there can be a connection,
procrastination does not appear to be anxiety related. The connec-
tion with neuroticism appears to be due almost entirely to impul-
siveness, which is sometimes nested under that trait. Depression’s
connection appears to be due mostly to waning energy levels,
which make many tasks more aversive to pursue. Similarly, fear of
failure appears to gain its relationship through lack of self-
confidence or low self-efficacy, which does have a strong depend-
able connection. For perfectionism, the results are informative,
indicating that procrastinators are actually less likely, not more, to
be perfectionists.
8
However, several results have a conceptually and empirically
unambiguous connection to procrastination. Of particular note,
procrastination is associated at a rho of .40 or greater with
individual difference variables of self-efficacy, need for achieve-
ment, proneness to boredom, distractibility, impulsiveness, self-
control, and organization. Furthermore, the confidence interval
widths (see Tables 2– 6) are narrow enough to confirm statistical
significance, even after familywise error is controlled for (i.e., p
.001). These findings provide good convergent validity of TMT, as
every outcome that it predicted was obtained (see Table 1). People
tend to procrastinate when the task is aversive or when rewards
rather than punishments are delayed. Similarly, procrastinators
tend to act against their original intentions (i.e., an intention–action
gap) and tend to be younger rather than older. Finally, variables
such as agreeableness and neuroticism, which other theories indi-
cate should be associated with procrastination, were not signifi-
cantly related, thus demonstrating discriminant validity. These
results were confirmed with a wide range of samples, measures,
and methodologies. Consequently, TMT does appear to be a good
model for integrating the general findings regarding self-
regulation.
Implications of TMT
Because conscientiousness and procrastination are closely
linked, TMT provides an excellent foothold toward furthering our
knowledge of self-regulatory failure. As Judge and Ilies (2002)
concluded, there is no theoretical framework explaining how per-
sonality traits are related to motivation and affect performance.
Similarly, as Zeidner, Boekaerts, and Pintrich (2000) stated, “A
major problem in exploring the self-regulation construct is map-
ping out the pattern of interrelationships between self-regulation
and related individual constructs, and the underlying processes to
which they relate” (p. 755). TMT indicates that there are four
major variables on which to focus: expectancy, value, sensitivity to
delay, and delay itself. How these variables can improve self-
regulation is reviewed, especially as they apply to procrastination.
Expectancy-Related Interventions
One way of decreasing procrastination for a given task is to
increase one’s expectancy of success. The effect, as indicated in
Figure 1, would be to shift its utility curve upward. As the
meta-analytic work here indicates, this is particularly true for
self-efficacy. Bandura (1997), who provided some of the most
extensive work in this area, contended that efficacy expectancy is
somewhat susceptible to verbal persuasion and emotional arousal
but is especially influenced by modeling and actual performance
accomplishments. By modeling, Bandura was referring to vicari-
ous experiences in which one observes other people completing
the task successfully. By performance accomplishments,hewas
referring to completing the task successfully oneself. Conse-
8
As one reviewer noted, there is still an additional issue to be resolved.
Although perfectionists do not appear to unduly delay initiating tasks, they
may still delay completing them as they strive to meet their own onerous
standards.
81
PROCRASTINATION
quently, it may be necessary to acquire or to improve various skills
relevant to task completion in order to decrease procrastination
later. For example, many people would likely finish their taxes
sooner if they were more confident about completing the task
successfully. Such confidence is bought largely with empirical
confirmation. People must demonstrate to themselves that they are
capable of such success.
Value-Related Interventions
The review here strongly indicates that task aversiveness—that
is, decreasing the value of a task—increases procrastination. This
is especially true if the task is considered boring or if it is
attempted when energy levels are low. Given that people are
unlikely to like all tasks equally, some domain specificity with
procrastination can be expected; there should be differential pro-
crastination depending on whether activities associated with work,
health, or socializing are examined, for example. Such domain
specificity is not uncommon to motivational traits (e.g., Vande-
Walle, Cron, & Slocum, 2001). To address task aversiveness, there
are a variety of choices.
To begin with, researchers may choose to make tasks more
difficult, although this runs counter to the previous suggestions
regarding expectancy. However, increasing task difficulty should
reduce boredom and, as the goal-setting literature indicates, can
increase the self-satisfaction that arises from completing the dif-
ficult rather than the easy (Wright, Hollenbeck, Wolf, & McMa-
han, 1995). Consequently, tasks should be constructed to be chal-
lenging but still achievable. Of note, those with higher needs for
achievement may be receptive to this tradeoff between expectancy
and value, because they tend to take more pleasure in their accom-
plishments.
Second, Ainslie (1992) discussed how one might express a
long-range interest by indulging in a short-range impulse. By
pairing the two together, our more distant goals can “piggyback”
on more immediate concerns. For example, Ainslie wrote about a
miser who has a wish to give to charity. Unfortunately, the miser-
liness is experienced more immediately and supersedes the desire
to be charitable. However, a stronger and even more immediate
urge is to gamble. Consequently, the miser’s long-term interest in
benevolent giving can find expression through the occasional
indulgence of a casino night at the local church. In this way, a task
with distal rewards may be paired with one that offers more
immediate recompense. Murray (1938) spoke of a similar phenom-
enon labeled fusing. Different needs may be satisfied through a
single action, permitting the desire for one outcome to be aug-
mented by way of another. Other examples of impulse pairing or
fusing can include the creation of study groups by those who enjoy
socializing. Though the exam may be far off, the pleasant inter-
action with fellow students can be experienced in the present. A
more extreme instance of this strategy may be an entire career
change. Someone who is high in the need for cognition—that is,
making sense and order of the world—may find work more im-
mediately satisfying and thus easier if he or she pursues an aca-
demic rather than a business career.
Finally, one interesting way of changing the value of tasks is
through classical conditioning. Eisenberger (1992) discusses how
effort toward a goal can be conditioned to take on the reinforcing
effects of the goal itself, an effect referred to as learned industri-
ousness. This follows directly from classical conditioning, in
which as long as effort leads to success at least intermittently,
effort will begin to be perceived as reinforcing in itself (i.e., a
secondary reinforcer). This conditioning need not be limited to
effort. Stromer, McComas, and Rehfeldt (2000) reviewed the more
general technique of stimulus chaining, in which any aspect of
work that provides differential contingency for success can be a
candidate. Whether the stimulus is pictures, praise, or pennies, as
long as it repeatedly predicts the reward, associations will build. In
this way, work can become intrinsically reinforcing; that is, re-
wards are experienced during the act, not afterwards. Because
there is no delay in the reward, procrastination becomes much less
likely. Note that the ratio of successes to failures is of critical
importance, especially in the early stages of learning. Too much
failure can bring about the opposite outcome of learned helpless-
ness, in which effort would become increasing aversive (i.e., a
conditioned punisher), increasing the possibility of procrastination.
Sensitivity-to-Delay Interventions
Procrastinators tend to be impulsive, distractible, and lacking in
self-control; thus, they are very sensitive to delays. It would be
ideal to influence these characteristics directly, although as per-
sonality traits they are fairly stable. There has been some success
with treating impulse control disorders through psychopharmacol-
ogy (e.g., Soutullo, McElroy, & Goldsmith, 1998), but this option
is considered too severe to be appropriate for common self-
regulatory problems. However, temptations to which the impulsive
individual is especially vulnerable can be more easily affected.
Given procrastination’s association with distractibility and organi-
zation, two methods of reducing distractions can be immediately
recommended: stimulus control and automaticity.
First, stimulus control helps to direct behavior by indicating
what is appropriate (i.e., rewarding) under any given circumstance.
To prevent procrastination, people surround themselves with cues
that confirm their goals and banish any sign that reminds them of
temptation. Research indicates that this approach is effective. For
example, procrastination decreased for students who studied in the
same location (Ziesat, Rosenthal, & White, 1978), a finding that
might confirm the merit of offices. This result was largely repli-
cated by Shoham-Salomon et al. (1989) as well as by Mulry et al.
(1994), although both used praise in conjunction with stimulus
control.
In particular, Galue´’s (1990) and Coote-Weymann’s (1988)
workplace investigations indicated that the most control over pro-
crastination can be achieved by exploiting environmental contrib-
utors. Consequently, researchers should be able to reduce procras-
tination by simply adjusting situational aspects, specifically the
proximity to temptation and the prevalence of stimulus cues. A
good example is e-mail, with over 90% of college computer users
reporting that they use it to delay irrationally (Brackin, Ferguson,
Skelly, & Chambliss, 2000). Because the e-mail icon is perpetually
within the field of view, and its access borders on instantaneous,
simply making e-mail less visible or delaying access to it should
decrease procrastination.
Second, Silver (1974) noted that one predictor of procrastination
is the number of choice points that a task requires. The more
junctures that require choice, the more likely it is that one will
procrastinate. Consequently, fostering automaticity is a powerful
82
STEEL
self-control technique. It refers to a habitualized course of action
that can be conducted with little or no conscious attention (Bargh
& Barndollar, 1996; Karoly, 1993). These automatic routines can
maintain goal pursuit, as they limit decision making to that rele-
vant to the task at hand. Because of these confined parameters
defined by the task, the decision to do otherwise is never made
within a heavily automatized routine. Several researchers have
spoken to this effect. For Kuhl and Goschke (1994), “The repeated
use of strict time schedules . . . fosters the formation of behavioral
habits that circumvent conflicts with competing tendencies by
establishing quasi-automatic trigger conditions” (p. 107). Also, as
Gollwitzer (1996) noted, “As long as the implementation of a
chosen goal does not follow habitualized routes, an individual will
have to make further decisions” (p. 292).
Delay-Related Interventions
Almost by definition, delay is related to procrastination, and
empirically there is strong support. Two particularly relevant find-
ings are that the intention–action gap increases the further the two
are temporally separated, and that those who are organized tend
not to procrastinate. These findings indicate that making proximal
goals should increase motivation, which is entirely consistent with
goal setting theory, although the effect is often attributed to pro-
viding “additional specific information” (Latham & Seijts, 1999, p.
422). This goal-setting research can be supplemented by studies
that have been conducted specifically on procrastination.
A considerable amount of research has shown that goal setting
does reduce procrastination. Boice (1989) found that daily writing
goals helped to keep academic writers on a healthy schedule of
publications. Also, in a self-paced course, Brooke and Ruthven
(1984) as well as Lamwers and Jazwinski (1989) used contracts for
periodic work completion to decrease procrastination. Similarly,
Wesp (1986) used daily quizzes to diminish procrastination in a
self-paced course. Each set of quizzes was repeated until students
achieved mastery of a section, whereupon a new set was admin-
istered, thus providing a constant incremental goal to work toward.
Finally, Tuckman (1998) administered periodic quizzes in his
class, finding that preidentified procrastinators tended to respond
especially well to this intervention. Ariely and Wertenbroch (2002)
investigated goal setting (specifically, creating deadlines to pre-
vent procrastination), finding that they were effective, but more
effective when set by other people.
Future Research
Extensive further research is needed that will fully explore
procrastination and its underpinnings. Although temporal dis-
counting is evidently key to understanding procrastination, and its
use is widespread in the field of economics (see Loewenstein,
1992; Steel & Ko¨nig, 2006), the motivational literature has tended
to not incorporate the notion (e.g., Franken, 1994; Kanfer, 1990;
Mitchell, 1997) and thus can offer only limited contributions.
Consequently, there is much interesting work to be done in the
scientific fundamentals of description, prediction, and control.
To begin with, although this review strongly indicates that TMT
provides an excellent description of procrastination, further con-
firmation would be desirable. The individual variables composing
TMT have been assessed, but there has yet to be a single compre-
hensive study determining how well the variables work in con-
junction. Such a study could include structural equation modeling,
which can help eliminate “third variable” explanations (see D. G.
Lee et al., 2006). However, a more advanced approach is also
recommended. Steel and Ko¨nig (2006) suggested that a comput-
erized personal system of instruction be used for further testing, as
it can provide “a wide-range of people who are striving at their
own pace towards an important goal in a standardized but realistic
setting in which we can precisely but easily measure their behav-
ior” (p. 906). Such a venue has already been used for procrasti-
nation research (Moon & Illingworth, 2005a; Steel et al., 2001)
and can be specifically adapted to test TMT. Researchers need to
assess the critical variables of expectancy, value, impulsiveness,
and delay to determine how well they predict observed procrasti-
nation using nonlinear regression with maximum likelihood esti-
mation (Jorgensen, 1983). Nonlinear regression is necessary be-
cause TMT is itself a nonlinear equation, and maximum likelihood
often helps to improve estimation involving a large number of
people.
Furthermore, regarding description, several individual differ-
ence variables that were thought to give rise to procrastination
proved to have low or practically nonsignificant correlations.
However, clinical practice and self-reports do indicate that some
may still remain as contributors to procrastination. Likely, these
variables represent one of several avenues by which tasks are made
aversive. For example, those who fear failure dread evaluative
events that lack the certainty of success, whereas those who are
rebellious loathe externally imposed deadlines. Whether these
traits translate into chronic procrastination depends on their inter-
action with a host of internal and external variables, including
people’s innate impulsiveness and need for achievement, the avail-
ability of temptations, and the frequency of encountering the tasks
that they particularly dread. Future research, then, should not
immediately dismiss these traits but rather should determine
whether they are more distally related. For example, they may be
important, but only for a subset of the population and only when
their lives are confined to specific situations.
Given that people’s reasons for procrastination may be multi-
faceted, researchers need a diagnostic procedure that identifies the
most promising and pliable junctures in order to lay the foundation
for treatment. As theory indicates, there are a variety of reasons
why people might irrationally delay a task. As mentioned, they
may be surrounded by easily available temptations. They may be
excessively impulsive. The task itself may be seen as excessively
risky or aversive. Each of these possibilities demands a very
different response, and until researchers can fully assess people’s
procrastination etiology, efforts to help must necessarily be hap-
hazard.
Of particular relevance to diagnosis is a connection between
brain functioning and procrastination. In a recent review, Skoyles
and Sagan (2002) noted the following:
Something in our brains has to give the inner cues that start us doing
things, keep us going, and, if need be, change what we are doing.
Usually that executive function belongs to our prefrontal cortex.
When it is injured, people tend to lose initiative. They may be able to
do things, but they don’t get around to it. (p. 45)
So far the only investigation of the prefrontal cortex as a source of
procrastination has been a doctorate thesis by Stone (1999), who
83
PROCRASTINATION
did not find a significant effect. Still closer examination is war-
ranted, including examination of other promising brain areas. Of
note, researchers studying addiction, another area of irrational
decision making, have identified a host of promising neural sys-
tems that deal with the self-regulation of behavior (Robinson &
Berridge, 2003). In particular, the anterior cingulate has a pivotal
role in preventing impulsive behavior and maintaining attention to
the task at hand.
Regarding control, our traditional treatments for procrastination
should be more extensive. Procrastination is usually work related,
but industrial-organizational interventions are limited primarily to
goal setting and coping with stress (Karoly, 1993; Terry, Tonge, &
Callan, 1995). A few alternatives have already been mentioned,
but there are still many other methods of regulation that are largely
overlooked or whose efficacies are only beginning to be under-
stood. Particularly promising as a method of motivational control
is altering one’s attention toward a temptation. As an early exam-
ple, Ainslie (1992) noted that Freudian defense mechanisms (i.e.,
repression) provide much of their effectiveness by diverting “pain-
ful stimuli away from both awareness and motor responsiveness
into the unconscious” (p. 128). More recently, Mischel (1996),
alone and with others (Metcalfe & Mischel, 1999; Mischel, Shoda,
& Rodriguez, 1989), reviewed this topic in depth, exploring a host
of different attentional tactics that children can use to delay grat-
ification.
Finally, procrastination’s intention–action gap is of particular
importance. Although the capacity of intentions for explaining
behavior is debatable (e.g., Greve, 2001), they are still very useful
in predicting behavior. Intentions form the crux of action theories,
particularly the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991). Meta-
analytic summary of the theory of planned behavior has shown that
the intention–behavior correlation is on average .47 (Armitage &
Conner, 2001), which increases slightly to .52 with the assessment
of perceived behavioral control (i.e., an expectancy-related vari-
able). However, although time is now recognized as moderator, its
mechanisms are not yet fully incorporated. For example, as Ajzen
(1988) summarized, “Since the likelihood of unforeseen events
will tend to increase as time passes, we would expect to find
stronger intention-behavior correlations with short rather than long
periods of delay” (p. 116). Although changes of circumstance can
undoubtedly affect behavior, as TMT suggests, time itself will
affect motivational intensity and thus behavioral direction (see
Figure 2). Furthermore, the degree to which people are susceptible
to an intention–action gap is largely influenced by the trait of
procrastination (Van Hooft et al., 2005). Consequently, once trait
procrastination is considered, the ability of intentions to predict
behavior could increase significantly.
Conclusion
References to procrastination can be found in some of the
earliest records available, stretching back at least 3,000 years.
Some of the first written words, agrarian guides, have lamented it
as a substantial problem. Mentions of procrastination have ap-
peared in early Roman and Greek military documents and in
ancient religious texts. Looking ahead, procrastination does not
appear to be disappearing anytime soon. On the contrary, it and
other problems due to temporal discounting should continue to
grow in frequency, particularly in the workplace.
Specifically, problems associated with procrastination and lack
of self-control appear to be increasing. At the same time, jobs are
expected to become more unstructured or at least self-structured
(Cascio, 1995; Hunt, 1995). This absence of imposed direction
means that the competent worker must create the order— he or she
must self-manage or self-regulate (Kanfer & Heggestad, 1997). As
structure continues to decrease, the opportunity for workers to
procrastinate will concomitantly increase. Furthermore, the prev-
alence and availability of temptation, for example, in the forms of
computer gaming or internet messaging, should continue to exac-
erbate the problem of procrastination. There are simply more
activities with desirable features competing for our attention. Also,
as mentioned previously, other forms of self-regulatory failure are
becoming very widespread. Consumer behavior, for example, ap-
pears particularly susceptible. An examination of credit card pur-
chases revealed about five times as much last-minute Christmas
shopping done in 1999 as in 1991 (“Many Shoppers,” 1999), and
credit card debt is reaching unsustainable levels (Sivy, 2000).
To deal more effectively with the ubiquitous problem of pro-
crastination, researchers need to focus their efforts on the role of
time in decision making. The theory reiterated here, TMT, is a
broad integrative formulation based on past work. It addresses a
growing need for integrative work that emphasizes the common-
alities across different motivation perspectives, letting us share our
findings more effectively (Donovan, 2001; Locke & Latham,
2004). However, the motivation field could continue to benefit
from a continued detailed examination of temporal effects, such as
construal level theory (Trope & Liberman, 2003). Procrastination
has plagued human beings since at least the birth of civilization. If
our research perspectives fail to evolve, it may continue to define
us for a considerable period of time.
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