Attention All Procrastinators: There’s Research to Help!

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It’s the twelfth of April and the clock is ticking on your tax return. For those of you who haven’t filed, we’ve assembled a few PLOS ONE papers to help get you back on track.

If you’ve pulled up your W-2s, but are tempted to stray why not read this study?  Aptly titled “Lead Me Not into Temptation: Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Reduce Goal Inconsistent Behavior”, this PLOS ONE paper suggests that simply thinking about a task in a different way can improve performance. The researchers instructed study participants to complete a set of simple tasks on the computer. Unbeknownst to the participants, a set of tempting, or distracting, obstacles were embedded in the task. The control group followed the same instructions for the first and second set of tasks. Meanwhile, the test group was told that the second task “aim[ed] to assess your willpower”.

Researchers found that reinterpreting the given task in a different way affected the participants’ performance. Reappraisal helped participants increase the importance of the goal (e.g., proving they had willpower) and decrease the importance of the temptation. Consequently, members of the test group spent less time distracted and derived less pleasure from the temptation than their counterparts in the control group.

In another PLOS ONE study, researchers examined the relationship between physical fitness, as measured by heart rate variability and cognitive performance. Individuals who were recruited underwent physical testing and were divided into high-fit and low-fit groups.  The researchers asked both groups to perform three cognitive tests that measured response time and various types of attention. They found that participants in the high-fit group performed distinctly better than their low-fit counterparts in the first cognitive task, which measured sustained attention.

For those of you who have tried going to the gym and reappraising the taxing task at hand, we’ve found another study that may help you beat procrastination. All you need to do is focus on this:

According to research published last year, viewing kawaii (a Japanese word for cute) images may affect behavior and increase focus. Participants in this study were asked to look at images of baby animals, adult animals, or neutral objects (e.g., food). Researchers then gave participants tasks to complete, such as use tweezers to remove small objects from holes or search for a specific number in a number grid, and assessed their performance. Their results indicate that individuals who looked at cute images prior to the task tended to perform better in tasks that require carefulness.

Procrastinators everywhere, there’s hope – and time – yet! If this science hasn’t convinced you to get back to the task at hand, read more PLOS ONE research about motivation, goals, and reward here.

Citations:

Leroy V, Grégoire J, Magen E, Gross JJ, Mikolajczak M (2012) Lead Me Not into Temptation: Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Reduce Goal Inconsistent Behavior. PLoS ONE 7(7): e39493. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039493

Luque-Casado A, Zabala M, Morales E, Mateo-March M, Sanabria D (2013) Cognitive Performance and Heart Rate Variability: The Influence of Fitness Level. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56935. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056935

Nittono H, Fukushima M, Yano A, Moriya H (2012) The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus. PLoS ONE 7(9): e46362. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046362

Images:

Procrastination – A1, by LadyDayDream.

Make Room for Me!, by Kimberly Tamkun / USFWS Mountain Prairie.

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