Procrastinators Lack a Broad Action Perspective


Dewitte, Siegfried, and Willy Lens. “Procrastinators lack a broad action perspective.”¬†European Journal of Personality¬†14.2 (2000): 121-140.

It is hypothesized that optimistic procrastinators have chronically high action identities whereas pessimistic procrastinators have low action identities.

Optimistic procrastinators put off their intentions and do not worry about it because they are confident they will succeed regardless of when they perform the task.

Pessimistic procrastinators do worry about their dilatory behaviors and feel incompetent and afraid and avoid the situation.

Therefore the difference is in the degree of adaptiveness.

Action perspective is the action the actor is aware of during the performance. It refers to the intention the person gives to an action like reading a paper versus keeping up with the literature.

Action identity  and action performance is mediated by the proficiency in the task.

They found people did better at a task when they adopted a high action identity versus a low one.

Dewitte and Lens (1999) found that action identity and persistence were moderated by the attractiveness of a task.

An intermediate action was sometimes better than a high and low one, which could mean there are wrong or naive adaptive action identities.

Corno (1993) did find they could be too high or too low.

A high action identity could mean that failures are not perceived as potentially damaging to the goal. The rate of achieving the goal is not realized. They cannot estimate progress relative to the amount of time remaining.

For low action identities, the consequences of feedback are magnified. They focus on the details more. Time passes more rapidly. They overestimate the time needed for the job.

The researchers used a survey that asked, when painting a room, do you think about “brush strokes” or “making a room look fresh?”

Pessimistic procrastination is related to low-level action identities. However, optimistic procrastination does not seem to follow with high-level action identities.

Procrastination regardless of type was related to low-level action identities.

Optimism may be related to general adaptiveness.

“Vallacher and Wegner (1985) found that parents who identifed their parenting actions by means of general descriptions (`I’m preparing my child for adult life’) did worse on parenting than parents identifying their parenting behaviour by means of down-to-earth identities (`I’m preparing my child for school’).”

It was found that procrastinators studied significantly less than nonprocrastinators.

The study found that pessimists and optimists do not procrastinate because of different action identities.

Of the two theories, one was supported, and the other dis-proven.

Procrastinators apparently have fewer high action identities to describe their study activities (ie they lack a broad perspective), have more specific intentions.

This could mean that nonprocrastinators can focus on details (ie concentrate) and simultaneously have supporting actions to help them.

Thus, if they are reading and find themselves distracted, they can refer to a high action identity to persist.

This interpretation is in line with Zimmerman’s (1998) statement that self-regulating students have elaborated hierarchical goal structures.

So this study found that all procrastination follows from low-level identities.

More specifically, procrastination is not necessarily from low-level identities, but from a lack of high-level identity.

Students lacking high-level identity (or broad perspective) might be oblivious to the reason for engaging in the task. During a boring or difficult task, a high action identity might help them overcome the inclination to quit.