Effects of Procrastination on Students

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Back when I was in college, I could never start studying at odd timings such as 9:27 am, or 11:05 am – it always had to be the beginning of an hour, or half an hour later, else it just didn’t feel right, and before I would know, the day was gone with nothing to show for it. Classic procrastinator, I know!

A research paper published in Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, suggests that I was neither first nor last, and certainly not alone. The research examined study patterns of college students for weekly in-class quizzes, and found that when a module of the course material was made available only at the completion of previous modules, students were well structured in their study schedules, but when access to study material was provided all at once, almost 95% students didn’t access it until day before the test. What this means is that, given a chance, almost all students would procrastinate.

The paper categorizes procrastination into two types – Resistant Procrastination and Refusal Procrastination.

Resistant Procrastination is when the delay results in putting a task off until the last minute before finally getting it done.

whereas the Refusal Procrastination is when delay results in the task being put on permanent hold and it never gets done.

Most students, indeed most people, struggle with Resistant Procrastination, which eventually leads not only to poor performance but also to stress and other mental health complications as the trap of procrastination adds pressure to ordinary tasks using avoidance and delay to create last minute “do or die” crises.

On the plus side, the research suggests some effective methods of managing procrastination in students:

  • The research found that students demonstrate greater self-control when they are given a choice between an immediate aversive event and a delayed but relatively more aversive event. The students preferred the immediate aversive event almost always.
  • Introduction of intermediate deadlines for completion of schoolwork also seems to motivate students to work now rather than later. Compared to a more fully self-paced arrangement, intermediate deadlines encourage a more evenly distributed pattern of study.
    • The research, however, cautions that this behavior might be directed more towards the completion of independent assignments, rather than studying for an exam.
    • The research also suggested that studying as a means of decreasing the aversiveness of being unprepared is effective only insofar as it results in good grades. If studying does not affect exam grades or affects grades negatively, it is not likely to be exhibited in the future.
  • What is known as ‘Malott’ performance-Management Model of Task ‘Accomplishment’ model, is also an effective tool in managing procrastination, and involves dividing large tasks into smaller subtasks with frequent deadlines, and reinforcing completion of the small tasks.

Now, these methods do help students become more disciplined with their studies, which eventually does lead to a more disciplined life in general, but the seeds of mental health problem once sown, must not be neglected. If your child is showing signs of a procrastinating behavior, contact our psychologists today to evaluate the risk to your child’s mental health.


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