Thursday, August 12, 2004

Gene Treatment Cures Monkey Procrastination

Scientists have found a way to turn procrastinating monkeys into workaholics:
Just in time for back-to-school season, researchers have turned procrastinating monkeys into workaholics by suppressing a gene that encodes a receptor for a key brain chemical.

The receptor, for the neurotransmitter dopamine, is important for reward learning. By suppressing it, researchers at the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland caused monkeys to lose their sense of balance between reward and the work required to get it.

"Like many of us, monkeys normally slack off initially in working toward a distant goal. They work more efficiently—make fewer errors—as they get closer to being rewarded," says Barry Richmond of the NIMH Laboratory of Neuropsychology. "But without the dopamine receptor, they consistently stayed on-task and made few errors, because they could no longer learn to use visual cues to predict how their work was going to get them a reward."

But the article goes on to say that the monkeys stopped procrastinating because they effectively had less information available.
Before the gene tweak, the monkeys would make fewer errors as they got closer to receiving a reward. After the gene tweak, they couldn't associate visual cues with workload and therefore couldn't figure out how much more they had to work to get a reward.

Well, of course, effective procrastination is impaired if you can't calculate how much there is left to do! All this is really saying is that the gene treatment made monkeys less intelligent, so they couldn't figure out how to procrastinate. Not much of an accomplishment, if you ask me. Hey, here's an idea, I could do a study where I make people less likely to commit robberies -- by getting them so drunk they can't figure out how to get up off the couch.

(This story also implies that workaholics can't reason effectively about rewards, which I find kind of funny.)

1 comment:

Peter said...

Rats. I was hoping for something I could use teaching 9th grade this fall. Please post any positive updates on this you happen to run across!