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Precrastination in cognitive tasks

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Precrastination is defined as the tendency to complete a task early even at the expense of extra effort (Rosenbaum et al., 2019). It has been suggested that people structure their behavior this way to free up cognitive resources, known as the CLEAR hypothesis (VonderHaar et al., 2019), particularly when given simple task choices. In the current study, this task choice behavior was compared across cognitive tasks to explore its generalizability. In Experiment 1, simple math problems were placed on boxes within a box moving task to be solved to determine box moving order. Participants were asked to generate category items during the box moving task at a time of their choosing, and the trial position they chose was measured. In Experiment 2, item generation and simple math problem tasks were compared during the box moving task on the same measure. In addition, individual difference measures of impulsiveness (Experiment 1) and self-regulation (Experiment 2) were included to investigate possible relations between task order choices and these traits. In Experiment 1, when math problems were added to the boxes, no significant precrastination was found and difficulty of the category affected trial position in only one order condition. In Experiment 2, high precrastination rates were found for both math problem and item generation tasks. However, there were no correlations between impulsiveness or self-regulation and trial positions for these tasks. These results suggest that task order choices for cognitive tasks may be dependent on the relative perceived difficulty of the tasks to be completed.

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  1. Because the data were not normally distributed, we confirmed these results with a non-parametric sign test. Neither difficulty level test was significant, p’s > .18.

  2. We also confirmed these results with a sign test. Trial position for both tasks was significantly different from the middle value of 6, p’s < .004, and trial position did not differ across tasks, p > .99.


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Correspondence to Dawn M. McBride.

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McBride, D.M., Villarreal, S.R. & Salrin, R.L. Precrastination in cognitive tasks. Curr Psychol 42, 14984–15002 (2023).

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