Procrastination

This started out as a rough draft about study habits (especially bad ones) during finals week back in May of 2017. Due to the weariness of the coinciding studies and final projects, I put it off. And put it off. And then a summer’s worth of craziness came and went, and this unfinished blog post slipped almost completely out of mind.

Therefore, I hastily reworked this musing on studying into one about procrastination:

Humans will procrastinate on various things for various reasons. Perhaps it is a boring assignment, perhaps it there is enough time that it does not need to be started right away, or perhaps they think something else requires their attention more. I think we all know about rationalizing a decision; question is, where does the underlying cause of that decision come from?

The Evolutionary and Biological Perspectives of Psychology focus on the possible causes of behavior rooted in genetics. We know that personality develops from a basic temperament that is probably rooted in genetics, and any behavior patterns we have that are genetic in origin are obviously derived from some behavior that was advantageous to survival. In fact, a lot of behaviors that are counterproductive in modern day humans can be easily viewed as genetic predispositions gone wrong (for instance, paranoia is probably advantageous for an environment full of predators, while an addiction to sweet and fatty food is probably due to the fact that such foods were both very rare for are ancestors and contained more nourishment than grain or seeds alone).

Perhaps procrastination is derived from a genetic predisposition that allowed for the conservation of energy. Perhaps this same genetic factor is basal for being able to think ahead and prioritize a hierarchy of tasks.  It is probably the former, since studies show that levels of mental difficulty for a task happen to have an actual intrinsic cost, which is partially why we prefer easy tasks to hard ones.

However, genetic predispositions don’t exist in isolation. The field of epigenetics shows that genetic information can be activated or deactivated depending on environmental factors (for example, the child of two tall parents may not grow a lot if he or she does not received enough nutrients). Also, predispositions aside, a lot of personality and behavioral tendencies are gained from interacting with the environment. If someone does something a certain way, it is because they learned over the course of their life that it was acceptable to do so.

How does one learn procrastination? How does one learn any behavior? Through reinforcement and punishment, of course. If a certain pattern of behavior produces positive results, then that behavior is going to be repeated more often than similar behavior that does not produce results. In theory, punishment discourages one repeating certain patterns of behavior (if punishment is ill-thought out or doesn’t explain why the subject is being punished, then the undesired behavior will persist and everyone will just get more stressed out). Therefore, if the results of procrastination produce something that is perceived as rewarding, then it is going to persist. Why would procrastination be rewarding? Well, the last minute rush of meeting a deadline is enjoyable for some, especially if the results are favorable.

There is more to learning than just reward and punishment, however. There is a physiological component that I think shouldn’t go overlooked.

The human brain is a complex mass of interconnected pathways, each associated with some process or another, all of them plastic enough that they can adjust to some degree in order to acclimate to changing circumstances. If a specific pathway or set of pathways is used often, then that pathway will gain new connections, and consequently gain strength as a neural process. Also, the more a thought pattern is repeated and strengthened, the greater the likelihood one will immediately default to that neural pattern instead of another one when making a decision.

Incidentally, the brains ability to strengthen and modify neural connections allows it to reassign skills to different parts of the brain, allowing stroke victims to relearn basic skills they might have otherwise lost. It also explains why people who “know” better develop substance dependencies.

For example, if someone usually plays video games rather than study for a class, their neural patterns concerning video games are going to be stronger than their patterns that concern studying, which means that they are more likely to make the decision to play video games first (perhaps they will come up with a good rationalization, but rationalization is usually just a person’s justifications for an emotional choice that they have already made).

The more reinforced a behavior is, the more one is motivated to choose it. For the most part, we are motivated by that which either fills a biological need or produces results that we find psychologically fulfilling. These involve the same parts of the brain, for the record, but the secondary psychological needs (such as money) are the results of classical conditioning (learning to associate a new stimulus with preexisting reactions). This is a gross oversimplification, by the way.

Social influences also are a major factor concerning human behavior. In general, humans learn what is proper behavior from the observation or the instruction of others. Being social animals, human behavior is often influenced by the real or imagined presence of other humans and what expectations one thinks they might have of them. In ambiguous situations, we follow the leads of those who seem to know what is going on. When among peers, we act in accord with them in order to fit in and avoid being ostracized.

Therefore, it is not uncommon for justifications of behavior (to oneself or others) to end with the phrase “–but everyone else does/is doing it.”

Now, back to the individualist point of view. A person’s behavior is often a mix-bag of inherent predispositions, environmental conditioning, learned attitudes, and various other influences. How well is able to overcome or adjust with this influences to change behavior depends on one’s mindset and views on personality.

If one believes a trait like intelligence to be inherent, then they are going to treat a task they cannot complete as proof that they are not smart enough to complete it, so they then move on to some other task that they can complete. Someone who views intelligence as a  constantly development trait, however, will treat an incomprehensible task as a challenge, so they will actively work on learning how to deal with the task. Neither is particularly wrong in the viewpoint, but certain perspectives on life can provide more opportunities for progress than others.

One’s overall emotional state also influences one’s decisiveness (obviosuly). Sometimes repeated behaviors result from a root issue; sometimes it is just the external influence of the weather messing up one’s mood. Either way, the issue is not going to be resolved unless the individual becomes consciously aware that an issue exists.

There are many reasons that a person might procrastinate, and none of them are mutually exclusive. Perhaps one is more predisposed towards it than someone else, but that does not mean that it is inherent to them; anyone can learn not to procrastinate if they can find the motivation and strength to do so. Instead of thinking about how hard a project is, think about how easy small parts of it would be. Instead of putting it off until later, start now and keep coming back to work on it. Do not think that you are stupid; think that you just don’t know something yet.

Of course, there are most likely people with better advice for this sort of thing. Even some of the stuff here might be of help.

In the mean time, I am going to work on some art history notes and communication exchanges that I have been putting off in favor of reading Silmarillion fanfiction.

 

Sources: 

Last year’s Psychology 101 textbook and notes

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Being Antisocial

When I was a teenager, I was somewhat of a loner; I kept to myself, rarely socialized, and was rather quiet and laconic. To some, I might have even seemed avoidant or unfriendly (although I did have a few friends with whom I would let my guard down). Unsurprisingly, I would occasionally be referred to as “antisocial” by my peers, which everyone ( including myself) generally used as a synonym for  words like “aloof”, “introverted”, and “shy”.

Turns out those words are only synonymous with the colloquial definition of the word. The proper definition of antisocial (according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary) is “averse to the society of others” or “hostile or harmful to organized society”. In other words, it is used to designate disruptive or delinquent activities or entities (unorganized crime and the like, I guess).

Learning the dictionary’s definition of antisocial lead to a websearch of the term, which immediately lead me to Antisocial Personality Disorder.

ASPD is basically a mental condition where a person consistently exhibits a complete disregard for social taboos and the well-being of others. Symptoms include a lack of empathy and remorse, the manipulation of others for gain or pleasure, impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead, hostility and violent/aggressive behavior, an arrogant sense of superiority, irresponsible and deceitful behavior, and abusive relationships. Naturally, people with ASPD tend to engage in behavior such as theft, vandalism, assault, and the like. A person with ASPD will have likely been diagnosed with Conduct Disorder during childhood and early adolescence (in fact, evidence of CD is apparently required for an ASPD diagnosis).

While people who have ASPD often get called psychopaths or sociopaths, there apparently are definitive differences between these terms, although there is no reason why someone with psychopathy or sociopathy cannot have ASPD as well.

For the most part, all three conditions share similar symptoms (lack of empathy, manipulative behavior, etc.). As far as I can tell, the main difference between psychopathy and sociopathy is that the latter is the product of genetics and neurological abnormalities (part of their brain does not work) while sociopathy is apparently the result of environmental influences coupled with a possible predisposition towards antisocial behavior. Sociopathy is a somewhat informal term that used to be a synonym for psychopath, but these days is more likely to designate a non-psychopath with ASPD, which is apparently a relatively broad category in which psychopathy sits as a specific subset. At the same time, people with ASPD are defined as being unable to confirm to societal mores, whereas there are cases of people who fit the profile for psychopathy and are able to live rather normal, non-disruptive lives. Interestingly, a couple studies show that criminals with both psychopathy and ASPD tend to be worse offenders then those with just ASPD.

Psychopathy, being the result of genetic deviance, probably does not have a cure that does not involve brain surgery. There is very little information on whether or not Antisocial Personality Disorder by itself can be cured, since most people with it are not the type to seek out treatment.

There is still some debate on the differences between psychopathy and ASPD, as well as the proper numbers of people who have both or either.

What is certain is that shy, introverted people do not really fit the generally profile of someone with ASPD.

Note: ASPD is applied to someone who persistently engages in anti-social behavior, which is basically any activity that is considered (at the least) to be socially inappropriate, or that displays disregard for the well being of others. It still does not seem really applicable to quiet, background people (except from the point of view of those who consider loners to be freaks).

 

Sources:

Merriam-Webster

Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder – Brito and Hodgins

What is a Psychopath?

Anti Social Behavior

Anonymity and Men in Grey

I used to share an apartment with a cousin of mine named Graeme (he moved in with his fiancée not too long ago). Graeme is a rather mild-mannered, introverted math major who generally presents himself as a tolerant and thoughtful individual. He is also an avid hunter, fisherman, and all around outdoorsman. Basically, he is good at observing the physical world around him without disturbing it.

It was Graeme who introduced me to the concept of the “Grey Man” back in 2011 (he had apparently chosen the term for his instagram handle). A grey man apparently is someone who does not stand out from the background, who is able to not draw attention to themselves and whatever skills or resources they possess. He (or she, or xe) is generally well prepared for any sort of problem and deliberately acts and dresses in manner that leaves practically no impression. Basically, it seems like a term applicable to a successful spy or a survivalist in hostile territory (unsurprisingly, it is quite a popular concept on various blogs and forums centered around survival theory, disaster scenarios, and possibly the US constitution’s second amendment; links to some that I found are located below).

Naturally, the professional, pragmatic anonymity of a grey man is much different from the anonymity of a mob, a mask, or a web account, where people who just happen to have their identity obscured feel the need to behave in a most noticeable manner. When one’s identity is hidden (or if one thinks that their identity is hidden), then one may behave in a less inhibited manner.

In the case of the internet, there is the “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory”, which is referred as the Online Disinhibition Effect” in more polite circles. When communicating with someone online, you cannot physically perceive them, nor can you really expect any immediate or severe consequences for what you might say. Therefore, you are less likely to censure whatever message you want to give. Naturally, this has happened even with people on social media who use their real names and share the site with people they know in real life.

Incidentally, general lack of inhibition means that people online are more prone to being flirty and affectionate as well as full of rage and obnoxious opinions. On an unrelated note, disinhibition in general is found in psychopaths (at least according to Wikipedia).

An individual can and will also act with less inhibitions in the physical world when they are part of a larger crowd. The anonymity of being part of a larger whole results in deindividuation, a term that I learned recently refers to lessening of individual identity in favor of blind obedience to a group goal. The size of the group makes it easier to lose the distinctions of individuality and lesson any individual feelings of responsibility, which means each individual has experienced a reduction of risk apprehension and similar behaviors. It is through deindividuation that ordinary people become looters, form lynch mobs, and give in to crowd hysteria.

The wearing of masks, especially identical masks, probably increases the amount of deindividuation and resulting disinhibition that occurs. For the record, I think that deindividuation is required to get soldiers to function properly in a unit, and can potentially be used effectively in nonviolent protesting as well (if the crowd’s objective is to be peaceful, then everyone is going to be peaceful, dammit!).

Obviously, the masking of identity involved in a mindless mob or online antagonisms is antithetical to the grey man, who deliberately crafts and utilizes their anonymity to further a longterm goal of survival, rather than winding up in circumstances where a person feels that they can safely give into their short-term impulses. One of a grey man’s objectives is to avoid the attention of the deindividuated mob.

On the subject of my cousin, Graeme used the moniker for his social media account as a joke about his tendency to stick to the background and go unnoticed when people watching, as well as his decent survival skills. However, he does have an online persona that differs somewhat from his “normal” one. While not an asshole, Graeme is definitely more prone to sarcasm online than he is on real life, and is slightly more willing to share opinions on political and social matters (he also likes to post images and links related to mothman, MIBs, and similar spookiness, mostly due to the fact that “Grey Man” also happens to be the name of a famous ghost, and he thinks it would be in character for his pseudonym to like such things). For the most part, he is still laid back and non-impulsive; he just happens to be developing a distinct online alter-ego as well.

Fortunately, Jekyll and Hyde situations probably have no basis in reality (but I will investigate, just in case…)

 

Sources from which I gained information:

Gray Man Strategies 101: Peeling Away the Thin Veneer of Society

Becoming The ‘Gray Man’: 10 Ways to Blend In and Survive

How To: The Modern Grey Man Philosophy

How the Internet Created an Age of Rage

The Online Disinhibition Effect

Deindividuation

You Are Not So Smart – Deindividuation

Coastal Observer: The Grey Man