Ever wonder why your coworker finishes all her work in the hour before it's due, while you've had your huge presentation ready to go for a month and a half? The reason some people procrastinate and others don't may have to do with brain structure, a new study says. According to a German study published in the journal Psychological Science, people who tend to procrastinate on the regular might have a larger amygdala and a less pronounced connection between their amygdala and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, two parts of the brain responsible for action and control.
"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," Dr. Erhan Genç, one of the study's authors, said in a press release about the findings. "Due to a low functional connection between amygdala and dorsal ACC, this effect may be augmented, as interfering negative emotions and alternative actions might not be sufficiently regulated."
Having this brain structure, however, doesn't mean you're 100 percent destined to procrastinate. As Medical Daily noted, mindfulness meditation — you know, the kind that makes it easier to focus — has been linked with a decrease in grey matter in the amygdala. Lead author Caroline Schlüter noted that the brain isn't fixed, but also said, "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."
If you're not a procrastinator, then you might not be as familiar with the dread and anxiety the comes with putting off a task. In general, when you finally tackle the task at the last minute, it's usually not as bad as you'd anticipated. However, this knowledge doesn't stop you from procrastinating when it comes to the next thing on your list, and the cycle starts all over again. What's more, a 2013 study from Stanford University Medical Center published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that having a larger amygdala is also associated with higher levels of anxiety, which is a big part of procrastination. You feel anxious about getting the project done, and you feel anxious because you're not doing it.
In this study, the large amygdala was actually over connected to certain areas of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. This can in turn lead to dread about starting whatever it is you're putting off. However, it's important to remember that anxiety often tells you things that aren't true, like tackling that project is going to be hella awful, even if it's something small like taking out the trash.
"Studies of adults suffering from anxiety disorders have shown that they possess enlarged, highly connected amygdalae," a press release about the Stanford study explained. "Studies of laboratory animals placed in an environment causing chronic stress have determined that the animals' amygdalae grew additional synapses and that synaptic connectivity increased in response to the resulting persistent anxiety."
Another study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience reported that people with larger amygdalae tend to be more social, have more friends, and develop more complex relationships. While there seems to be a lot of competing information out there about the mysterious amygdala, maybe the relationship between having a big amygdala and being super social is part of procrastination. Because, if you're keeping busy with your besties, whatever you're putting off can wait.