Procrastination: Genetic, Anatomical And Functional Differences Sway Separately

In women, the tendency toward procrastination is associated with a genetic predisposition towards a higher level of dopamine in the brain. Researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the Technical University of Dresden discovered this using genetic analyses and questionnaires.

They were unable to identify this correlation in men.

“The neurotransmitter dopamine has repeatedly been associated with increased cognitive flexibility in the past. This is not fundamentally bad but is often accompanied by increased distractibility,”

says Dr. Erhan Genç from the Bochum Department of Biopsychology.

Higher Dopamine Levels And Procrastination

The research group investigated the genotype of 278 men and women. They were particularly interested in what is known as the tyrosine hydroxylase gene (TH gene).

Depending on the expression of the gene, people’s brains contain differing amounts of neurotransmitters from the catecholamine family, to which the neurotransmitter dopamine belongs. The team also used a questionnaire to record how well the participants were able to control their actions.

Women with poorer action control had a genetic predisposition towards higher dopamine levels.

Whether someone tends to postpone tasks or tackle them directly depends on the individual’s ability to maintain a specific intention to act without being distracted by interfering factors. Dopamine could be crucial here.

In previous studies, the neurotransmitter has not only been associated with increased cognitive flexibility but also seems to make it easier for information to enter the working memory.

“We assume that this makes it more difficult to maintain a distinct intention to act. Women with a higher dopamine level as a result of their genotype may tend to postpone actions because they are more distracted by environmental and other factors,”

says doctoral candidate Caroline Schlüter.

More Prone To Genetic Differences?

Previous studies have revealed gender-specific differences between the expression of the TH gene and behaviour.

“The relationship is not yet understood fully, but the female sex hormone estrogen seems to play a role,”

explains Erhan Genç. Estrogen indirectly influences dopamine production in the brain and increases the number of certain neurons that respond to signals from the dopamine system.

procrastination

Professor Onur Güntürkün, Caroline Schlüter, associate professor Dr. Sebastian Ocklenburg, Dr. Marlies Pinnow and Dr. Erhan Genç (from left)

“Women may therefore be more susceptible to genetic differences in dopamine levels due to oestrogen, which, in turn, is reflected in behaviour,”

says the biopsychologist.

Next Steps

In future studies, the research team intends to investigate to what extent estrogen levels actually influence the relationship between the TH gene and action control.

“This would require taking a closer look at the menstrual cycle and the associated fluctuations in the participants’ oestrogen levels,”

explains Caroline Schlüter.

In addition to dopamine, the TH gene also influences norepinephrine, another important neurotransmitter from the catecholamine family. The researchers aim to examine the role that these two neurotransmitters play in action control in further studies.

Caroline Schlüter, Larissa Arning, Christoph Fraenz, Patrick Friedrich, Marlies Pinnow, Onur Güntürkün, Christian Beste, Sebastian Ocklenburg, Erhan Genc
Genetic Variation in Dopamine Availability Modulates the Self-reported Level of Action Control in a Sex-dependent Manner
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, nsz049, https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsz049

Timothy A. Pychyl
Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change
TarcherPerigee; (December 26, 2013) ISBN: 978-0399168123