What is it about?

We often rush to get things done. Is that because we want to act as quickly as possible, or do we want to get decision-making over and done with? We developed a reaction time task to answer this question and obtained evidence for the decision-making hypothesis rather than the action hypothesis.

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Why is it important?

In our hurried lives, we often answer emails too soon, submit papers before they’re ready, pay bills before they’re due or -- on different scales -- convict people before all the evidence is in or go to war before things have cooled down. But why do we rush? What’s the hurry? If there are scarce resources, it’s wise to grab low-hanging fruit, but in other cases, rushing has a less clear basis. One possibility is that there is a strong desire to do something .. anything! .. just for action’s sake. Another possibility is that we want to clear our minds rather than dwell on decisions. A new reaction-time task supported the decision-making hypothesis rather than the action hypothesis.


This study was spurred by the discovery in this laboratory of a phenomenon called pre-crastination. Pre-crastination is the tendency to expend extra effort to get things done as soon as possible. Previous studies have shown that many people pre-crastinate and that the behavioral manifestations of pre-crastination are widespread. These behavioral manifestations include picking up and carrying objects farther than needed simply to pick up the objects quickly, and switching to new responses for anticipated rewards even when it would be optimal to continue with ongoing responses. An unresolved question about pre-crastination is whether it reflects the desire simply to act as soon as possible or the desire to reduce the load on working memory. We invented a new reaction-time task to choose between these possibilities. Our university-student subjects made yes-no decisions and then immediately made yes-no decisions again, either about the original question (Experiments 1 and 2) or about the first decision (Experiment 3). In both cases, first-response reaction times were longer than second-response reaction times and first-response accuracies were very high, with second-response accuracies being only marginally higher. We concluded that our participants wanted to make up their minds as soon as possible rather than act quickly and then have to think or rethink. The result encourages the belief that even though people engage in impulsive decision-making, they may actually be predisposed to curtail it.

David Rosenbaum
University of California, Riverside

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This page is a summary of: Think then act, or act then think? Double-response reaction times shed light on decision dynamics in precrastination., Journal of Experimental Psychology General, June 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/xge0001253.
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