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20-06-2020 | Original Article

Precrastination and individual differences in working memory capacity

Psychological Research
Nisha Raghunath, Lisa R. Fournier, Clark Kogan
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When ordering tasks, people tend to first perform the task that can be started or completed sooner (precrastination) even if it requires more physical effort. Evidence from transport tasks suggests that precrastination can reduce cognitive effort and will likely not occur if it increases cognitive effort. However, some individuals precrastinate even when it increases cognitive effort. We examined whether individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) influence this suboptimal choice. Participants retrieved two cups of water along a corridor, in the order of their choosing. We measured the frequency of choosing the close cup first (precrastination) while varying water levels in each cup (attention demand) located at different distances. Results showed that the tendency to select the far cup first (avoid precrastination) increases when the close cup is full (high attention demand) vs. not full (low attention demand). Post-hoc results showed high (vs. low) WMC individuals more frequently bypass decisions with relatively higher costs of cognitive effort, avoiding precrastination when the attentional demand of carrying the close (vs. far) cup is relatively high (close-cup full and far-cup half full), but not when it is relatively low (far-cup full). However, there was no evidence that WMC could explain why some individuals always precrastinated, at costs of cognitive effort. Instead, individuals who always precrastinated reported automatic behavior, and those who avoided precrastinating reported decisions of efficiency. Learning, the relationship between precrastination and tendencies to enjoy/engage in thinking or procrastinate, and evidence that precrastination required more cognitive effort in our task, are discussed.

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