How do we decide which object to pick up when faced with two alternatives? Imagine one object is near, but needs to be carried a long distance, and the other object is far, but needs to be carried a short distance. You might predict that participants would favour the far object that needs to be carried a short distance. In other words, they would procrastinate and delay picking up an object to minimise physical effort. In actuality, participants prefer to carry the near object a long distance, which is called pre-crastination. Pre-crastination may be preferred to procrastination because picking up the first object hastens completion of the first goal of the task and, subsequently, decreases cognitive load. The goal of the current study was to further investigate the mechanisms of the pre-crastination effect. This was done by converting the primarily walking task used in the first study on pre-crastination to a reach-to-grasp task. This change enabled the measurement of the duration of information processing (i.e., reaction time) when participants decided which object to move. Surprisingly, participants exhibited a range of behaviours: about 40% pre-crastinated, 40% procrastinated, and 20% neither pre-crastinated nor procrastinated. We suggest that scaling the task down from a walking task to a reach-to-grasp task altered the physical effort, cognitive load, and the interaction between these task demands. This enabled some participants to pre-crastinate and others to procrastinate. There was an intriguing relationship between the duration of information processing and the behaviour of participants: participants with the shortest reaction time had the strongest tendency to pre-crastinate, and participants with the longest reaction time had the strongest tendency to procrastinate. These findings fit with the automatic pre-crastination response hypothesis; that the “decision” to pre-crastinate is automatic. This automaticity caused the short durations of information processing for participants who pre-crastinated. Participants who procrastinated had to, first, inhibit the automatic response to pre-crastinate, which caused long durations of information processing.
Two-alternative forced choice task Information processing Reaction time Trajectory analysis
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We thank Michael E McCarty for our discussion on the pre-crastination effect and Zack G Foster for assisting with data collection. We are also thankful for Michael B Steinborn and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful critiques.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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