Sometimes, Early Birds Are Too Early

Posted on July 26, 2014

"There is an overwhelming tendency to precrastinate," according to a paper published in May in the journal Psychological Science. The behavior might include answering trivial emails, for example, or paying bills far ahead of time. "It's an irrational choice," the paper said, but it also reflects the significant trade-offs people make to keep from feeling overwhelmed.

The paper described an experiment at Pennsylvania State University that was meant to explore decision-making when it comes to physical effort. Students were asked to carry a beach bucket down an alley. They were given a choice: They could pick up a bucket near the start of the alley and carry it to the end, or they could pick up a different bucket that was closer to the end of the alley, walk a few steps and put it down.

The researchers assumed that most of the subjects would choose the bucket that required the least amount of lifting time. Instead, most picked up the bucket that was closer to them, a decision that forced them to carry it longer than necessary. In other words, they gave themselves extra work for no apparent benefit.

Through the experiments, the researchers homed in on a hypothesis: People appear wired to incur a significant physical cost to eliminate a mental burden.

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Source material from New York Times


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