Does Procrastination and Stress Have an Affect on Your Health?
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
HOLLOWAY, B. E. (2003). Does Procrastination and Stress Have an Affect on Your Health?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Does Procrastination and Stress Have an Affect on Your Health?
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
The purpose of this study was to see if procrastination and stress had an effect on health behaviors. Studies have shown that a relationship between the three does exist. Procrastinators have a tendency to become stressed out when put under time constraints. This stress can have a negative impact upon your immune system, causing more chronic health conditions. In this study, 110 (68 female and 42 male) participants were given a health scale, a procrastination scale and a stress scale to complete. A significant regression equation was found that showed a decrease in health score when the procrastination and stress scores were high.

Procrastination is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare, which literally means to put off or postpone for another day (DeSimone, 1993; as cited in Ferrari, Johnson & McCown, 1995). In Roman times, it did not possess the negative connotation that it does today. Today, behaviorists typically define it as a learned habit derived from a human preference for short-term rewards (McCown, 1986). As a society, we generally do not consider procrastination a problem even though research has indicated that at least 20 percent of people classify themselves as such (Marano, 2003). There is no one set reason that procrastinators delay in completing their tasks. In an interview done by Marano (2003), Joseph Ferrari and Timothy Pychyl identified three types of procrastination behaviors. In the first type, arousal procrastinators do so for the thrill or working at the last minute to complete a project. Avoiders are another type of procrastinator who avoids either the fear of failure or the fear of success. The last type, decisional procrastinators, believe that by not making a decision it relieves them of the responsibility of the outcome. College students are no strangers to procrastination. Studies have shown that 70 percent of the college population procrastinates on their schoolwork (Ellis & Knaus, 1977) and the likelihood of procrastination increases from freshmen to senior year (Hill, Hill, Chabot & Barrall, 1978). These students tend to procrastinate when writing papers, studying for tests and when completing assignments (Solomon & Rothblum, 1984; as cited in Senecal, Lavoie & Koestner, 1997), assignments that are often considered effortful and anxiety producing (Ferrari & Scher, 2000). Academic procrastinators also underestimate the time it takes to complete a project and believe that working at the last minute will make them more creative, which they typically are not. College students who procrastinate have also claimed that their procrastination has a significant impact on their academic standing, ability to understand class material and the overall quality of their lives (Ferrari, 2001).Stress is commonplace in most of our lives, but for college students it is entirely different. Stress is the result of the interaction between stressors and the person’s reaction to those stressors (Romano, 1992; as cited in Ross, Niebling & Heckert, 1999) and can have a negative impact on a person’s health and academic performance. For college students, just thinking about paying for school is stressful. Many use scholarships and/or loans and grants to help them through school. With this cost is the pressure to maintain good grades to keep those scholarships and grants. When in school, some students are subjected to excessive assignments and great time pressures. Freshmen college students are a particular group highly prone to stress due to the transition from high school to college. The stress does not end there, as they delve further into their intended majors and minors. For a person, the big cost to procrastination is to the person’s health. During a given semester, students that were identified as high procrastinators had evidence of compromised immune systems as more colds, flu, and some had bouts of insomnia (Marano, 2003). Tice and Baumeister (1997) have reported that those who are procrastinators reported less stress and illness early in the semester and increased occurrences of illness and stress toward the end. Overall, they found that those who procrastinated were ill more often than the ones that were not high procrastinators. It seems that short-term benefits have long-term costs.Fuschia Sirois at the University of Windsor in Ontario has done research in the area of procrastination and health. Her research has shown that those who do procrastinate engage in fewer healthy behaviors because of weaker intentions to engage in those behaviors (Sirois, 2003). Tice and Baumeister (1997) have also conducted a longitudinal study on the effects of procrastination on the quality of performance, stress, and illness. Their research as found that procrastinators do suffer from stress the same way that non-procrastinators do. The only difference between the two is the fact that the procrastinators suffer for a shorter period of time. They also found that procrastination does not shift the amount of illness and stress, it only increases the amount of it. The purpose of this study is to see if procrastination and stress could have an impact on the person’s health behavior.


One hundred and ten undergraduate students (68 female, 42 male) from the introductory and intermediate psychology classes at Missouri Western State College participated in the study. They received extra credit at the discretion of the instructor.

The first survey will be one that is composed of random questions off a lifestyle survey on These 15 questions will be based on a three point Likert-type scale from 0 (almost never) to 4 (most of the time). Questions range from “I have the motivation to realize my plans” to “I eat a healthy balanced diet according to nutritional guidelines.” (Appendix A)

Lay’s (1986) General Procrastination Scale. This 20-item scale, keyed in the direction of high procrastination, included such items as “ I do not do assignments until just before they are to be handed in” and “I usually make decisions as soon as possible.” Ten questions are reverse-keyed. (Appendix B)

Insel & Roth’s (1985) Student Stress Scale was adapted from the Social Readjustment Rating Scale created by Homes and Rahe. This inventory is a 31-item scale of events and is scored from highest (death of a close family member) to lowest (minor traffic violations). Scores of 300 or higher indicate a relatively high health risk; scores of 150-299 indicate a 50/50 chance of serious health problems within two years. (Appendix C)

Each of the students were given a packet that included three scales. They were informed about the study and told that their participation was voluntary. The packets were given out and I instructed them to not put their names on any of the sheets to ensure privacy. Participants were told to fill out the scales in the order in which they were given. After filling out the scales, they were asked some demographic information (gender, age, year in school, hours taking this semester) and were instructed to pass the packets in.

A multiple linear regression was calculated to predict subjects` health score based on their procrastination and stress score. A significant regression equation was found, (F (2, 107)=12.88, p<.001), with an R2 of .194. Subjects` predicted health score is equal to 54.91-.310(PROCRASTINATION)-.0095(STRESS)when procrastination and stress is measured. Subjects health score decreased .31 points for each point of the procrastination score(Figure 1) and .0095 points for each point of the stress score (Figure 2). Both procrastination and stress were signifcant factors.

The hypothesis presented was supported by the results. The participants’ health scores were related to the scores on their procrastination and stress tests. A multiple linear regression was calculated and showed a significant regression equation when predicting health score based on procrastination and stress scores. The higher the procrastination and health score is, the lower the health score is for the individual. These findings were consistent with previous literature. There were limitations in this study. The first limitation was the participant. It would be hard to get an honest answer out of an individual who is not really motivated to participate. There was also not a control group involved to see if an effect actually occurred. The third limitation involves the types of scales that were used. Questions on the stress scale and health scale were somewhat vague and ambiguous. Some participants were confused with certain questions and that might have led them to answer in another fashion. The last limitation to this study was my inability to speak to the larger crowds, which might have made me seem less reputable. The validity of the experiment was not as good as it should have been. There was no randomization taking place nor was there any control group involved. Future research might use different instruments to see if similar results could occur. Other research might look at comparing the procrastinators and non-procrastinators to see if there is any difference between the groups’ health and stress scores.

Ellis, A., Knaus, W.J. (1977). Overcoming procrastination. New York: Institute for Rational Living.Ferrari, J.R. (2001). Procrastination and attention: Factor analysis of attention deficit, boredomness, intelligence, self-esteem, and task delay frequencies. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 16, 185-196.Ferrari, J.R., Johnson, J.L. and McCown, W.G. (1995). Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory research and treatment. New York: Plenum Press.Ferrari, J.R., Scher, S.J. (2000). Toward an understanding of academic and nonacademic tasks procrastinated by students: The use of daily logs. Psychology in the Schools, 37, 359-366.Hill, M., Hill, D., Chabot, A., and Barrall, J. (1978). A survey of college faculty and student procrastination. College Student Journal, 12, 256-262.Insel, P., Roth, W. (1985). Core concepts in health (4th edition). Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co.Lay, C. H. (1986). At last, my research article on procrastination. Journal of Research in Personality, 20, 474-495.Lifestyle Test. Accessed October 28, 2003 from http://www.queendom.comMarano, H. (2003). Tomorrow…tomorrow: Why we procrastinate. Accessed October 16, 2003 from, W. (1986). An empirical investigation of the behaviors of procrastination. Social and Behaviorial Science Documents, 16, 1-89.Ross, S.E., Niebling, B.C. and Heckert, T.M. (1999). Sources of stress among college students. College Student Journal, 33, 312-317.Senecal, C., Lavoie, K, and Koestner, R. (1997). Trait and situational factors in procrastination: An interactional model. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 12, 889-904.Sirois, F. (2003). Procrastination and intentions to perform health behaviors: The role of self-efficacy and consideration of future consequences. Presented at the American Psychological Association Conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.Tice, D.M., Baumeister, R.F. (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress and health: The costs and benefits of dawdling. Psychological Science, 8, 454-458.

Figure 1. Procrastination scores matched with their corresponding health score.

Figure 2. Stress scores matched with their corresponding health score.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Health Scale

Read the questions and answer each by circling the one that most applies to you.

1. I feel good about what I do (studies, job, being a full-time mother/father…)Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

2. I have the motivation to realize my plans.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

3. I eat a healthy balanced diet according to the nutritional guidelines.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

4. My weight is within the normal range.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

5. I drink LESS than 5 oz. (three drinks) of alcohol per weekAlmost never Sometimes Most of the time

6. I smoke LESS than 1 pack of cigarettes per week (less than 3 a day).Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

7. During my usual day, I am physically active (I take the stairs instead of the elevator or walk).Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

8. During my usual day, I take time to stretch and relax.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

9. I exercise at least three times a week.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

10. Once I get to bed, I fall asleep easily.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

11. I am satisfied with my relationships (friends, love).Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

12. I spend adequate time with family, friends, etc.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

13. I am satisfied with the way I spend my leisure time.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

14. I am capable of balancing my budget.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

15. I have a check-up exam at least once every three years.Almost never Sometimes Most of the time

Procrastination Scale (Lay, 1986) – For student populations


People may use the following statements to describe themselves. For each statement, decide whether the statement is uncharacteristic or characteristic of you using the following 5-point scale. Note that the 3 on the scale is Neutral-the statement is neither characteristic nor uncharacteristic of you. On the line next to the statement please write the number on the 5-point scale that describes you.

1=Extremely Uncharacteristic2=Moderately Uncharacteristic3=Neutral4=Moderately Characteristic5=Extremely Characteristic

1. I often find myself performing tasks that I had intended to do days before. _______2. I do not do assignments until just before they are to be handed in. _______3. When I am finished with a library book, I return it right away regardless of the date it is due. _______4. When it is time to get up in the morning, I most often get right out of bed. _______5. A letter may sit for days after I write it before mailing it. _______6. I generally return phone calls promptly. _______7. Even with jobs that require little else except sitting down and doing them I find they seldom get done. _______8. I usually make decisions as soon as possible. _______9. I generally delay before starting on work I have to do. _______10. I usually have to rush to complete a task on time. _______11. When preparing to go out, I am seldom caught having to do something at the last minute. _______12. In preparing for some deadline, I often waste time by doing other things. _______13. I prefer to leave early for an appointment _______14. I usually start an assignment shortly after it is assigned. _______15. I often have a task finished sooner than necessary. _______16. I always seem to end up shopping for birthday or Christmas gifts at the last minute. _______17. I usually buy even an essential item at the last minute. _______18. I usually accomplish all the things I plan to do in a day. _______19. I am continually saying “I’ll do it tomorrow.” _______20. I usually take care of all the tasks I have to do before I settle down and relax for the evening. _______


Instructions: Check those events you have experienced in the past six months or are likely to experience in the next six months.


1. Death of a close family member _____ _____ 1002. Death of a close friend _____ _____ 733. Divorce between parents _____ _____ 654. Jail Term _____ _____ 635. Major personal injury or illness _____ _____ 636. Marriage _____ _____ 587. Fired from job _____ _____ 508. Failed important course _____ _____ 479. Change in health of a family member _____ _____ 4510. Pregnancy _____ _____ 4511. Sex problems _____ _____ 4412. Serious argument with a close friend _____ _____ 4013. Change in financial status _____ _____ 3914. Change of Major _____ _____ 3915. Trouble with parents _____ _____ 3916. New girl or boyfriend _____ _____ 3817. Increased workload _____ _____ 3718. Outstanding personal achievement _____ _____ 3619. First quarter/semester in college _____ _____ 3520. Change in living conditions _____ _____ 3121. Serious argument with instructor _____ _____ 3022. Lower grades than expected _____ _____ 2923. Change in sleeping habits _____ _____ 2924. Change in social activities _____ _____ 2925. Change in eating habits _____ _____ 2826. Chronic car trouble _____ _____ 2627. Changes in no. of family get-togethers _____ _____ 2628. Too many missed classes _____ _____ 2529. Change of college _____ _____ 2430. Dropped more than one class _____ _____ 23 31. Minor traffic violations _____ _____ 20

Submitted 12/3/2003 7:07:34 PM
Last Edited 12/4/2003 9:23:59 PM
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