Does the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met human polymorphism influence procrastination?

Francesco Di Nocera, Orlando Ricciardi, Georgia Abate, Arturo Bevilacqua


Genetic studies are enlightening how the expression of several genes influences neuronal activity and all facets of human normal and abnormal behavior. Among these, a growing body of information shows that a few key genes regulating activity of central neurotransmitters have specific roles in cognitive and/or emotional processes. Examples of these genes are those encoding for the serotonin transporter (5-HTT) and the enzyme cathecol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), both associated with anxiety, aggressive behavior, impulsivity, or even psychopathology. Procrastination is a serious concern in many work and study settings and is usually considered as the expression of impulsive choices: the temporary preference for a smaller-sooner reward over a larger-later reward. Alternatively, but not exclusively, it may be due to the ability to perform better under stressful rather than normal conditions. In the present study, we investigated the association of the 5-HTTLPR and COMT Val158Met polymorphisms with students’ procrastination in an academic writing task. Results showed no relationship between procrastination and the 5-HTT polymorphism but they revealed an association with the COMT Val158Met one. Particularly, the presence of the Met158 allele was found to be significantly associated with the tendency to initiate and complete the assigned task as soon as possible, thus suggesting it may have a protective role in procrastination. Since the 158Met allele provides neurons with significantly higher basal dopamine levels when compared to the 158Val allele, our observation suggests that under normal conditions, namely when the schedule deadline is far ahead, the 158Met allele provides carriers with increased inhibitory control and/or cognitive performance, resulting in an increased tendency to adhere to a planned schedule and therefore reducing procrastination. On the other hand, the Val158 allele may result more effective in increasing carriers’ performances under stress conditions, namely when the schedule deadline is approaching, and dopamine release is increased. This would result in a higher tendency to procrastinate.





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