There’s logic to my laziness

Leo Bear-McGuinness investigates research that tries to justify why some of us are so unproductive

30th November 2015

Why are we so lazy? As a student, you may ask this question to yourself on a daily basis. Personally, before writing this article, I slept in, watched TV, flicked through social media for a good hour, realised to my horror that I hadn’t a coffee, and thus immediately fled downstairs to make myself two cups. Why does this happen? How can a species that has reached such incredible feats as landing on the moon and the Cronut (croissant-donut) be capable of such apathy?

In some part, a tendency to procrastinate can be put down to our evolutionary history. Back in the good ol’ days when we humans didn’t have antibiotics, plumbing or refrigeration, life tended to be considerably shorter. This harsh way of existence necessitated our nomadic ancestors to focus all of their effort into short-term goals, such as hunting. As they may have died the next day, the forbearers of modern day humans never did much in the way of planning or preparations and it is this lack of future consideration, that we still posses today, that can stop us from seizing our lives by the metaphorical horns and pointing them in the direction of our dreams.

But what about the especially lazy? We all know one. Are some people just born slackers? Recent studies have revealed that inefficient connections between certain brain areas may make it difficult for a person to perform actions if not immediately necessary. One particular experiment, conducted by neurologists at Oxford University, compared the neurological activity of participants who showed motivation in a survey to a group who appeared more apathetic.

The tests revolved around the subjects being asked to complete various tasks for different rewards. As expected, the participants that were identified as more apathetic were less likely to perform the tasks that required more effort, despite there being a larger reward for doing so. However, when the ‘lazy’ subjects did decide to undergo a task, they displayed more activity in the pre-motor cortex (a part of the brain involved in decision making) than the more motivated participants – a result that was contrary to the researcher’s predictions. Further investigations showed that apathetic people have less efficient connections between the anterior cingulate cortex and the supplementary motor area; sections of the brain that control decision-making and movement respectively.

Recent studies have revealed that inefficient connections between certain brain areas may make it difficult for a person to perform actions if not immediately necessary

Although it is as yet unclear whether these poor brain connections are genetically linked or not, there is other evidence to suggest that laziness is hereditary. Last year, scientists in China and Scotland identified a gene mutation in mice, SLC35D3, which produces a protein that blocks dopamine receptors in the brain. Mice with this gene spent significantly less time exercising than mice without the mutation, as they were receiving less dopamine (a neurotransmitter involved in reward-motivated behaviour) for their efforts. Professor John Speakman, who worked on the project, has provided gym-opposed couch potatoes everywhere with the ammo they have been waiting for, stating that “one in 200 people may have these ‘rare’ mutations”.

However, before we all happily acquiesce to our lazy and obese fates, it is important to remember the most dangerous word in genetics: for. While there may be a gene ‘for’ not wanting to exercise or a cluster of genes ‘for’ a lack of foresight of future repercussions, they do not dictate the course of our lives. Even if you are one of the unlucky few with this mutation, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’. We can overcome our predispositions (so don’t let that billion word essay beat you!).

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