Psychology. Doing everything in a rush: what is precrastination?

What could be the opposite of “putting everything off until later”? Well, “do everything, right away”. This is precrastination. Wanting to achieve everything… even if it means rushing.

In 2014, the team of Dr. David Rosenbaum, from the University of Pennsylvania (United States) conducted an experiment with 257 students: they had to follow a route to bring water to a given place. There was a bucket of water close to the start line and a bucket of water, clearly visible, at the finish. The team then found, not without surprise, that most students chose the first bucket they could take, even if it meant having to carry it all the way.

The researchers gave this behavior the name of precrastination, because it is the exact opposite of procrastination, which consists in delaying the moment of accomplishing a task as much as possible… They sought an explanation for this phenomenon, apparently irrational, since it was thought until then that an “intelligent” organism chose to minimize its energy expenditure! However, the choice of the first bucket obviously imposes an additional effort.

The desire to end it as soon as possible

Their conclusions: the students simply acted in this way to have the impression of accomplishing the requested task more quickly! The authors suggest that the phenomenon is linked to the way we manage our working memory. Quickly achieving an intermediate objective can lighten this memory, even at the cost of additional physical effort. And this is not specific to humans: this fundamental behavior is also at work… in pigeons!

Interviewed in 2019 by the BBC, Dr Rosenbaum thus suggests that today’s managers admit that it is not always better to ask that everything be always done as quickly as possible! In our time when orders often push us to run like headless chickens, it is good to have scientific proof establishing that precipitation mainly leads to… an unnecessary waste of energy.

Source: Psychological Science, 2014

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