Psychology. Precrastination or the art of haste

What could be the opposite of “leaving everything for later”? Well, “do everything, right away.” This is precrastination. Wanting to achieve everything… even if it’s in a hurry.

In 2014, the team of Dr. David Rosenbaum, from the University of Pennsylvania (United States) carried out an experiment with 257 students: they had to follow a route to bring water to a certain place. There was a bucket of water near the starting line and a bucket of water, clearly visible, at the end. The team then discovered, not without surprise, that most of the students chose the first bucket they could grab, even if it meant carrying it all the way.

The researchers gave this behavior the name of precrastination, because it is the exact opposite of procrastination, which consists of delaying the moment of carrying out a task as long as possible… They sought an explanation for this apparently irrational phenomenon, since it was I thought! until then that an “intelligent” organism chose to minimize its energy expenditure! However, the choice of the first cube obviously imposes additional effort.

The desire to finish it as soon as possible.

Their conclusions: the students simply acted in this way to get the impression of completing the requested task more quickly! The authors suggest that the phenomenon is related to the way we manage our working memory. Quickly reaching an intermediate goal can lighten this memory, even at the cost of additional physical effort. And this is not specific to humans: this fundamental behavior is also present… in pigeons!

Interviewed in 2019 by the BBC, Dr Rosenbaum suggests that today’s managers admit that it is not always better to ask for everything to be done as quickly as possible. In our age where commands often send us running like headless chickens, it’s nice to have scientific evidence that precipitation primarily leads to…wasteful energy.

Source: Psychological Sciences, 2014

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