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The Thief of TimePhilosophical Essays on Procrastination$
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Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195376685

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195376685.001.0001

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The Basic Impulse

(p.11) 1 Procrastination
The Thief of Time

George Ainslie

Oxford University Press

Procrastination results from a temporary preference to defer costs and is thus a species of impulse. Whereas many impulses entail an immediate thrill, suggesting at first glance that conditioned reward could be the mechanism of impulsiveness, procrastination can win out just because the prospect of effort or deprivation feels better if deferred. This is a basic example of the overvaluation of an imminent option just because its payoff comes before its cost, implying hyperbolic discounting of prospective experience. Many impulses can be controlled by interpreting current behavior as a test of the credibility of future intentions—“If not now, when?” an example of intertemporal bargaining, arguably the mechanism of willpower. However, much procrastination involves deferring the less rewarding components of mental activities, including the fallow periods that restore capacity for emotional reward. The pervasiveness and lack of boundaries that characterize this kind of procrastination limit the capability of willpower to control it.

Keywords:   behavioral economics, conditioning, emotional reward, hyperbolic discounting, impulses, intertemporal bargaining, occasioning, procrastination, rationalization, will

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