How Pervasive Are Procrastination and Delay Behaviors in Young Adults and What Is the Role of Perceived Parenting?

By Dutta, Ranjana; Truax, Jordyn | North American Journal of Psychology, June 2018 | Go to article overview

How Pervasive Are Procrastination and Delay Behaviors in Young Adults and What Is the Role of Perceived Parenting?


Dutta, Ranjana, Truax, Jordyn, North American Journal of Psychology


A young adult recently griped that "something must be very wrong with me! I get behind on my to-do list within hours of making it, and that makes me procrastinate even more. How did I get this way?!" Indeed, procrastination is a global menace, particularly in young adults (Steel & Ferrari, 2013) with over 80% of college students reporting it as a pervasive problem (Steel, 2007). Literature on procrastination has exploded since initial scholarship (Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995) but much remains unknown about the development and pervasiveness of delay behaviors in young adults.

Though seasoned scholars would read many potential research questions in the above gripe, in this paper we explore two. Our first question pertained to the pervasiveness of delay behaviors across various domains of goal pursuit in young adults. Do young adults delay tasks similarly in all domains, and if not, which domains are more likely to get delayed? Prior literature on procrastination has typically focused on tasks in one or two domains, so we wanted to widen the lens to examine delay behaviors across multiple domains within the same person. Our second question pertained to how parenting during teen years, when parents socialize children for adulthood, was associated with self-regulation and delay behaviors in young adults? Parenting styles have been demonstrated to impact children and adolescents' motivation and self-regulation continuing into young adulthood (Moilanen & Manuel, 2017). Studies on procrastination have also shown that authoritative parenting (Pychyl, Coplan, & Reid, 2002), less conflict with parents, and greater parental support are associated with lower academic procrastination in adolescents and young adults (Ferrari, Harriott, & Zimmerman, 1999). Based on the literature on emergent adulthood (Arnett, 2000), we focused on parenting in teen years because this is when parents socialize the child for the adult world and face the challenge of recalibrating parenting to facilitate self-regulation in the growing adult (Grolnick, 2003). Thus, our second question focused on how perceptions of parenting during the teen years may be associated with delay behaviors.

Distinguishing Procrastination and Delay

Researchers agree that procrastination involves delay of an intended activity. However, they disagree on when that delay constitutes procrastination. Some define procrastination as volitional and irrational (Steel, 2007, Steel & Klingsieck, 2016) while others acknowledge the role of "uncertainty and confusion" (Mann, 2016, p. 47) and indecision when encountering choices (decisional procrastination, see Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995). Most view procrastination as failed self-regulation and dysfunctional, typically associated with negative emotions like remorse, overwhelm, anxiety, stress, fatigue, and depression (Beutel et al., 2016; Steel, 2007; Van Eerde, 2003). Acknowledging the dysfunctional nature above as passive procrastination, others are quick to point the adaptive, purposeful, and strategic functions of procrastination (active procrastination by Choi & Moran, 2009; Chu & Choi, 2005; Kim, Fernandez, & Terrier, 2017) which may even enhance productivity (Perry, 2012). The idea of deliberate or intentional procrastination is similarly echoed in the metacognitive explanation and assessment of intentional and unintentional procrastination (Fernie, Bharucha, Nikcevic, Marino, & Spada, 2017). Ferrari's (1992) term for the strategic delay to motivate oneself by the rush of meeting a deadline was arousal procrastination, versus the typical avoidance of aversive tasks (avoidant procrastination), although Steel (2010) questioned that distinction.

To distinguish "procrastination" from adaptive delay, Klingsieck (2013b) defined it as dysfunctional delay in the start or completion of an intended act despite awareness of potential negative consequences of delay. …

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