01 March 2007

Analyzing Procrastination

Okay, this article on why we procrastinate is officially the coolest thing I've seen today. You all know my propensity to explain things through pretentious mathematical equations. Well, how about a mathematical equation to explain why I'm sitting here typing this instead of reading more Hugh Nibley.
You'll have to read the article to find out what it's supposed to mean, but I just had to laugh at the description of procrastinating a college term paper:

To help illustrate these characteristics, the following prototypical example is put forth: the college student’s essay paper. A college student who has been assigned an essay on September 15th, the start of a semester, due on December 15th, the course end. This student likes to socialize but he also likes to get good grades. The figure below maps the changes in expected utility for him over the course of the semester regarding his two choices, studying vs. socializing. Since the reward for socializing is always in the present, it maintains a uniformly high utility evaluation. For writing, its reward is temporally distant initially, diminishing its utility. Only towards the deadline do the effects of discounting decrease and writing becomes increasingly likely. In this example, the switch in motivational rank occurs on December 3rd, leaving just 12 days for concentrated effort. During this final hour, it is quite likely that earnest but empty promises (i.e., intentions) are made to start working earlier next time.
Amen, and amen.


Cathryn said...

This is hilarious. Is there a field of study that focuses on using concrete mathematical equations to explain abstract social occurrences? Can I major in it? :D

Liz Muir said...

Actually, there sort of is. Have you read Freakonomics? That would be a fun branch of math to go into. :D

Cathryn said...

Oh my gosh! I've totally forgotten about that! It's been on my list for years, but I've never gotten around to it. Gotta remember that. :)