Don't Delay

Understanding procrastination and how to achieve our goals

When Pride Prevents the Fall

How norm transgressions reduce procrastination

Procrastination. It’s nothing to be proud of. Recent research reveals that this lack of pride may be part of the solution to procrastinating less!

In July, I was co-chair of the 8th Biennial Procrastination Research Conference which was hosted by co-chair Dr. Fuschia Sirois, Canada Research Chair at Bishop’s University (Sherbrooke, Quebec). It was a great conference with participants from all over the world (as far away as Peru) and many interesting new perspectives and insights about my favorite topic, procrastination.

All joking aside, I had intended to write about some of the new research that was presented since I returned from the conference. That’s going on two months ago. But, you know how it is in the summer; it seems like yesterday. Better late than never, right? I imagine readers of this blog might agree. I did enjoy lots of cycling, canoeing, swimming and playing with my kids. Priorities, not procrastination, right? Well, maybe a little procrastination.

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In any case, I want to begin some of my reflections from the conference with a paper presented by Benjamin Giguère  (University of Guelph). Ben conducted this research with my co-chair for the conference, Fuschia Sirois and Richard Lalonde (York University). Ben, a social psychologist, took a different perspective than we personality psychologists do. He looked at social norms, and specifically at transgressions of social norms.

Norm transgressions can be of two types: commission or omission. In other words, I can do things (commission) that violate a norm (e.g., drink too much, drive too fast), or I may not do things (omission) that violate a social expectation such as failing to act when action is expected. Yes, we might consider procrastination as violating a social norm. I’m expected to do my work, but I needlessly put it off.

From a social psychological perspective, this norm transgression may not lead to guilt or shame per se, but it’s nothing to be proud of, and, Ben argues, people generally work to feel pride in themselves. It’s a basic need of sorts. Certainly pride is felt when we finish a valued task. Needless task delay undermines this sense of accomplishment and pride.

Ben and his colleagues conducted two studies. In the first study, they sought answers for three questions:

  1. Does procrastinatory behaviour involve the experience of norm transgression?
  2. Does it increase situational experiences of guilt and shame?
  3. Does it decrease situational experiences of pride?

In this study, they had undergrads divided into three groups, but the first two will be my focus. The students were asked to recall a particular event. In the experimental condition (procrastination condition), they were asked to recall a time that they did something more fun or easier than what they had intended (e.g., watching TV, spending time with friends, online/social media).  The (quasi) control group were asked to recall a time they did something more important than what they had intended (e.g., paid work, a favor for a family member).

They found that the students did view needless delay as a norm transgression, and this was associated with significantly lower feelings of pride and higher ratings of shame and guilt. For now, we’ll focus on the decrease in pride associated with procrastination as a norm transgression.

In the second study, they wanted to know if this decrease in pride affected the motivation to act differently in the future. They had the students in this study keep a diary of procrastination over two days along with other things. Interestingly, they found that high norm transgression (procrastination) and low pride on day 1 were associated with less procrastination on day 2. Why?

Their follow-up analyses revealed that the desire to receive social approval motivated action. In short, the students sought praise for completing the task. The lowered sense of self-pride simply doesn’t feel good, and it motivated action toward the goal, not more needless delay.

Professor Giguère and his colleagues made some tentative conclusions on the basis of this first study of procrastination as a norm transgression.  The main conclusion based on the results was that the loss of pride may motivate people to do things on time (i.e., follow norms) to feel proud again. However, they also argue that we need to be cautious about giving praise without meeting a reference point of meaningful competency. A false sense of pride for nothing earned can lead to problems. 

Finally, and most interesting to me and others at the conference, they posed an interesting question – as all good researchers will.

Who are those who even when perceiving norm transgression still report high pride? 

In other words, who among us might procrastinate and still feel pride? Interesting question. Any thoughts on this you might share?

 

Reference

Giguère, B., Sirois, F.M.,  & Lalone, R.N. (July 19, 2013).  When pride prevents the fall: Procrastination, social emotions and norm transgressions. Paper presented at the 8th Biennial Procrastination Research Conference, Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke Quebec.

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

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