How the brains of life's doers differs from those of procrastinators

on 27 August 2018
never do today, what you can put off until tomorrow

While the focus of this research is on the brain difference between doers and non-doers, it is important to consider whether this is a genetic anomaly or a learned one. From a practical perspective, I'd say it's a little of both but exacerbated over time by the experience of repetition . . . 

Procrastination is an unwitting anxiety disorder!

I have spent the last 10 years doing research on the brain and mind, its scope is so vast and so, so complicated. But eventually, patterns begin to emerge and while all brains are anatomically identical (well almost), they are at the same time, functionally very different. During those 10 years, I kind of picked up a piece of the puzzle from here and another piece from there, however, I have to say that the person who has influenced my knowledge and understanding of our 2lb control centre the most, is Joseph LeDoux, an American Neuroscientist.

While the amygdala (somewhat immortalised by LeDoux) is an almost household name these days, it does not work in isolation, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It is, however, a vital part of our threat detection system, which sits at a crossroads between the hypothalamus and the PAG (periaqueductal grey) and also has close connections to areas known as the extended amygdala. One of the lesser-known but equally important areas of, the extended, amygdala is the Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis (BNST). The amygdala deals primarily with certain or known threats and dangers while the BNST deals with more uncertain or intangible ones. 

In light of the above and the research below, I have long viewed procrastination as an anxiety disorder and will explain why. If you look at procrastination behaviourally, it is a subconscious avoidance strategy and avoidance is the hallmark of anxiety disorders. Even though people, who display this behavioural trait, know it is illogical and works against them in the long run, they still seem powerless to intervene. For the most part, they leave it until the last minute and then rush to do it, which, ironically, almost certainly lowers the quality of their output. It is, perhaps, the conscious awareness of this lowered quality that further feeds their anxiety and while common sense dictates that, that should spur them to be more proactive in the future, i.e. the conscious awareness of a failed strategy, it is the subconscious's illogical processing that interrupts this logical illogic!

The threat detection system (involving many cortical, as well as subcortical parts of the brain), which processes emotionally threatening stimuli, outside of conscious awareness, has a primary objective of the survival of your life, not the quality of it. On the other hand, it is the conscious awareness of a limited or impeded quality of life that ultimately drives clients towards seeking treatment for procrastination. Generally speaking, I have found that people, including Doctors, do not often view procrastination as an anxiety disorder, yet, ironically, I have never had a client, seeking help for procrastination, who was not experiencing a moderate to extreme anxiety issue?

This research is interesting in that it confirms the involvement of the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus (Brodmann area 32). The dorsal region of the anterior cingulate gyrus is associated with rational thought processes, most notably active during the Stroop task. I guess the rationale, here, is that the dorsal anterior cingulate area is attempting to provide a logical, or perhaps, the illogical, basis of the perceived danger/threat imposed by the world's need for you to do something, as opposed to your mind's perceived benefit in avoiding it?

Hypnotherapy has an excellent record of helping people, with all manner of emotional, psychological and mental issues, to find peace and inner calm. It is the unique way in which hypnosis allows the inner workings of the subconscious to rewrite the neural code that elicits such unwanted, and, illogical responses and helps restore more correct and functional ways of living a good and productive life! Hypnotherapy; C'est la Vie!

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research: 

Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum have analysed why certain people tend to put tasks off rather than tackling them directly. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they identified two brain areas whose volume and functional connectivity are linked to an individual's ability to control their actions. The research team headed by Caroline Schlüter, Dr Marlies Pinnow, Professor Onur Güntürkün, and Dr Erhan Genç from the Department of Biopsychology published the results in the journal Psychological Science on 17 August 2018.

Two areas of the brain linked to action control:

The biopsychologists examined 264 women and men in an MRI scanner. They assessed the volume of individual brain regions and the functional connectivity between them. In addition, all participants completed a survey measuring their own ability to execute action control.

Individuals with poor action control had a larger amygdala. Moreover, the functional connection between the amygdala and the so-called dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dorsal ACC) was less pronounced. "These two areas of the brain had already been linked with action control in former studies," says Erhan Genç.

Assessing and selecting actions

The primary function of the amygdala is to assess different situations with regard to their respective outcomes and to warn us about the potential negative consequences of particular actions. The dorsal ACC uses this information in order to select actions that are to be put into practice. Moreover, suppressing competing actions and emotions, it ensures that the selected action can be successfully completed.

If the interplay between the amygdala and dorsal ACC is impaired, action control can no longer be successfully executed, according to the theory put forward by the researchers. "Individuals with a higher amygdala volume may be more anxious about the negative consequences of an action -- they tend to hesitate and put off things," speculates Erhan Genç. "Due to a low functional connection between the amygdala and dorsal ACC, this effect may be augmented, as interfering negative emotions and alternative actions might not be sufficiently regulated."

Learnable or not?

Future studies will have to show if the degree of action control can be modified through specific training or brain stimulation. "Even though the differences regarding our ability to control our actions affect our private and professional success as well as our mental and physical health to a considerable degree, their neural foundations haven't as yet been sufficiently studied," says Caroline Schlüter, who addresses this issue in her PhD thesis.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Ruhr-University BochumNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Caroline Schlüter, Christoph Fraenz, Marlies Pinnow, Patrick Friedrich, Onur Güntürkün, Erhan Genç. The Structural and Functional Signature of Action ControlPsychological Science, 2018; 095679761877938 DOI: 10.1177/0956797618779380