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Media Use, Escapism and Procrastination

Is media-enabled escapism the same as procrastination?

In July, I attended the 9th Biennial Procrastination Research Conference in Bielefeld, Germany. Among the many interesting papers presented was some research conducted by a colleague who is completing her Ph.D. in Communication Studies, Sarah Kohler (University of Muenster). She knows from reading the literature that media use as escapism serves many functions such as forgetting one’s sorrows and problems or even a type of narcotic dysfunction. She also learned from reading this literature that three different types of escapism have been defined: change, repression and delay.

Given the potential function of media use as escapism for delay, she wondered to what extent this escapism is the same as procrastination?

She collected survey data from a sample of 400 university students with an average age of 27 years. The survey consisted of a couple of measures of procrastination as well as a measure that reflected our typical experiences with television. This earlier research on TV experience revealed 5 major factors that underlie our TV viewing, one of which was simply TV as our “pastime.” Interestingly, Kohler’s data analysis further subdivided this factor into two components, boredom and habit.

Not surprisingly, trait procrastinators compared to state procrastinators indicated that their media use was a habit, while the state procrastinators (those who procrastinate occasionally based on the circumstances) endorsed “to beat the boredom” and “to spend some time” more frequently. So, while both trait and state procrastinators used media for escape, there were certainly different psychological features to this escape.

Kohler concluded that media use for escape can certainly be a form of procrastination, but not all media escapism serves this purpose. This is particularly important she argues, because communication science needs to think more clearly about the distinction between escapism in general and procrastination specifically (as these have been confused in some recent research).

Her conclusions mirror one of my own distinctions between delay and procrastination. While all procrastination is delay, not all delay is procrastination. Knowing the difference is important, as my doctoral student Mohsen Haghbin has recently shown. In both the case of different types of delay as well as distinguishing between escapism and procrastination, it’s important to define our constructs precisely. This is true for research and everyday life, because we can needlessly criticize others and ourselves when we fail to make these distinctions.

For example, we all need to escape from our responsibilities and daily stress in order to restore ourselves. Similarly, we all need to delay things whether it be to fulfill our priorities or because the delay is an inevitable outcome of competing demands on us. If we believe that all escapism or all delay is procrastination, we’ll be unnecessarily and falsely harsh on ourselves.

If you want to learn more about Kohler’s research, you can listen to her iProcrastinate Podcast interview.

Kohler, S. (July 9, 2015). Procrastination and media use as a escapism: Same same but different. Paper presented at the 9th Biennial Procrastination Research Conference, Bielefeld, Germany.

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