Procrastination study could spark actual procrastination

The funny thing about a study written in academic-speak, published in The Journal of Counseling and Development on the topic of procrastinating college students, is that the very nature of the article — the ultimately unclear point, the not-quite-human narrative voice, and ad nauseam references to things like ""the bivariate correlation""— is the very thing driving typical Psychology 101 students to avoid reading it as much as I did. Who would have thought an academic study on procrastination would fuel students to put things off?


That being said, consider the following scenario for generic Psychology 101 student X, whom we'll call Emma: Haycock et al.'s article is assigned six weeks into the semester, at which point Emma is already a hundred pages behind in her readings in three of her four classes.

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Confronted with Haycock et al. in addition to all the other work she hasn't done, Emma plans to finish up her class/work for the day, and then obsessively dedicate herself to ""catching up."" Said plan never manifests because her friends always call right as she's about to sit down and begin work.


She agrees to go get a drink, though on this particular evening she has a group meeting at eight, but figures there's time — so she drinks and shoots the shitake for an hour and then slogs over to her meeting, which is slow-moving, with lots of unnecessary anecdotal stories and non-task related banter that drives Emma up the wall, since she has all this other work, including the Haycock article, that still remains undone.


The meeting ends with Emma hating everyone in her group. She goes home frustrated and stressed because she's now royally screwed for tomorrow and just lays on her bed staring at the ceiling.


After 30  minutes of deep breathing and personal reflection, she finally begins pulling folders and notebooks out of her bag and then either goes and gets a drink of water and a snack or takes a shower to calm herself for the coming task. The task amounts to little more than Emma skimming a portion of the Haycock article without comprehension, and then hitting the sack — citing the undeniable power of a good night's rest, and vowing to get up at 5 a.m. to get things together for her classes.


The Haycock article alludes to other researchers' findings for why Emma's not doing her work, which include: she's procrastinating so she can avoid thinking about the inevitability of her death, and she's a woman and apparently way more likely to not only procrastinate, but to agonize over said procrastination long after the fact.


The most vigorous hypothesis in the Haycock article, however, deals with self-efficacy — the idea that students don't want to appear stupid or unworthy, so they put off assignments so that their work is never a reflection of their best effort — and they can always feel like they're much better than their work will ever actually reflect. In which case Emma probably never gets her work done at 5 a.m., but vows to get it together, explains to each professor about her current ""existential crisis"" and apprises them of her new vow, and to please not take today's homework as an indicator of her actual ability.


Personally, I think Emma procrastinates because she doesn't want to read densely inaccessible articles like Haycock et al. Emma thinks she's alone in feeling such hatred and rhetorical emptiness for these kinds of articles, but she's not, and she shouldn't pretend to be.



— James Carpenter is a senior majoring in creative writing. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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