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A Preliminary Investigation of the Role of


Psychological Inflexibility in Academic Procrastination
Debra M. Glick, Daniel J. Millstein, Susan M.
Orsillo

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcbs.2014.04.002
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Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science

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Revised date: 1 November 2013
Accepted date: 7 April 2014
Cite this article as: Debra M. Glick, Daniel J. Millstein, Susan M. Orsillo, A
Preliminary Investigation of the Role of Psychological Inflexibility in Academic
Procrastination, Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.
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A Preliminary Investigation of the Role of Psychological Inflexibility in Academic


Procrastination
Debra M. Glick (corresponding author), Daniel J. Millstein, and Susan M. Orsillo
Suffolk University
41 Temple Street
Boston, MA 02114
Debra.glick@suffolk.edu
617-824-0336

Running Head: PSYCHOLOGICAL INFLEXIBILITY AND ACADEMIC


PROCRASTINATION

A Preliminary Investigation of the Role of Psychological Inflexibility in Academic


Procrastination

Abstract
Estimates of the prevalence of academic procrastination are troublesome given the
negative associations among procrastination, academic performance, and psychological and
physical well-being. Multiple theories aimed at understanding factors that cause and maintain
procrastination have been proposed, but none fully account for this problematic behavior. We
hypothesize that procrastination can be understood as reflecting a state of psychological
inflexibility, characterized by several processes, including experiential avoidance (i.e., attempts
to avoid or escape from unpleasant internal experiences), diminished present moment awareness
(i.e., diminished mindfulness), and difficulty articulating and engaging in valued activities.
The goal of the current studies was to explore the potential association between
psychological inflexibility and procrastination. Two samples of students completed measures of
trait procrastination, trait anxiety, and psychological flexibility. As predicted, procrastination was
positively associated with anxiety and negatively associated with psychological flexibility. In
addition, psychological inflexibility added to the prediction of procrastination over the
contribution of trait anxiety. Implications for increased understanding of, and interventions for,
procrastination are discussed.

KEYWORDS: Academic procrastination; Psychological flexibility; Experiential avoidance;


Mindfulness; Acceptance; Academic values

A Preliminary Investigation of the Role of Psychological Inflexibility in Academic


Procrastination
Procrastination is prevalent among students in higher education, with estimates that
college students engage in this behavior between 30-60 percent of the time (Rabin, Fogel &
Nutter-Upham, 2010). Moreover, it has been suggested that graduate students procrastinate on
academic tasks even more frequently than do undergraduate students (Onwuegbuzie, 2000).
This high rate of procrastination is of concern given its adverse consequences on academic
performance, physical health, and psychological well-being. Procrastination is negatively
correlated with final overall course grades, (Steel, Brothen, & Wambach 2001) as well as grades
on assignments such as papers (Tice & Baumeister, 1997) and exams (Steel et al., 2001; Tice &
Baumeister, 1997). Students who self-report more procrastination exhibit more symptoms of
physical illness and stress, and visit the health center more than do students lower in
procrastination (Tice & Baumeister, 1997). Specifically, procrastination is associated with
increased stress, as well as delays in seeking medical treatment (Sirois, Melia-Gordon, & Pychyl,
2003). Further, individuals high in trait procrastination have been shown to have weaker
intentions to engage in health-promoting behaviors such as improving their diets or getting more
sleep (Sirois, 2004). In addition, procrastination has been linked with poor mental health (Stead,
Shanahan, & Neufeld, 2010), a failure to seek mental health services, (Stead et al., 2010) and
suicide proneness (Klibert, Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Luna, & Robichaux, 2005). Given these
adverse effects, it is not surprising that the majority of students desire to reduce their
procrastination (Solomon & Rothblum, 1984).
The development and provision of effective interventions for procrastination requires a
strong, cohesive theoretical explanation of the behavior. Unfortunately, despite a recent increase

in scientific research, much has yet to be learned about the causes and maintaining factors of
procrastination (Steel, 2007). One common theory is that procrastination results from an inability
to manage time (e.g., Burka & Yuen, 1983) and many of the most popular interventions for
procrastination focus on increasing time management skills (e.g., Levrini & Prevatt, 2012).
Although a meta-analysis provides some support for this theory (Steel, 2007), other studies that
more directly examined time management and academic procrastination have not revealed a
significant relationship between the two (e.g., Ackerman & Gross, 2005; Pychyl, Morin, &
Salmon, 2000). Moreover, there is limited empirical support for the notion that time management
strategies decrease procrastination (Van Erde, 2003).
Research also supports a relationship between procrastination and various unwanted
internal experiences. Procrastination has been found to be associated with trait anxiety (e.g.,
Solomon & Rothblum, 1984), task-related anxiety (e.g., Fritzsche, Young, & Hickson, 2003),
and statistics anxiety (e.g., Macher, Paechter, Papousek, & Ruggeri, 2012). Moreover,
procrastination has been linked with several constructs that involve intolerance or fear of
unwanted internal experiences such as frustration intolerance (e.g., Dryden 2012), fear of
negative evaluation (e.g., Bui, 2007), and fear of failure (e.g., Beck, Koons, & Milgrim, 2000).
With regard to fear of failure, the relationship with procrastination was highest for people with
low perceived competence, whereas those with higher perceived competence were more likely to
begin working on tasks ahead of time (Haghbin, McCaffrey, & Pychyl, 2012). One possible
explanation for these findings could be that some individuals procrastinate in an attempt to avoid
a variety of aversive experiences such as fear, anxiety, and self-evaluative, anxiety-provoking
thoughts. Support for this notion comes from a series of studies suggesting that procrastination
may serve an emotion regulatory function (Sirois & Pychyl, 2013).

Although engaging in pleasant leisure activities and taking breaks can be an effective
way of dealing with academic stress, research demonstrates that students who pursue these
activities as a way to enhance mood and avoid discomfort experience a paradoxical increase in
distress (e.g., Patry, Blanchard & Mask, 2007; Pychyl, Lee, Thibodeau, & Blunt, 2000). Further,
students appear to be more likely to procrastinate when they believe they have the ability to
impact (or control) their mood. Tice and colleagues (2001) demonstrated lower levels of
procrastination among students who were led to believe that their mood was temporarily fixed
than those who were led to believe their mood was changeable. This finding suggests that
students who accept that they are unable to change or control their internal experiences may be
less likely to procrastinate.
This model of procrastination is consistent with the more general theory of psychological
problems proposed by Hayes and colleagues (1996; 1999; 2012). Hayes et al (1996) initially
proposed that experiential avoidance (EA), an unwillingness to remain in contact with certain
private experiences (e.g. thoughts, emotions, physical sensations) accompanied by
counterproductive or harmful attempts to alter or avoid these experiences, was a pathological
process underlying many forms of psychopathology. These processes have become further
specified and currently the term psychological inflexibility, defined by six key psychological
processes (i.e., the hexaflex model; experiential avoidance, cognitive fusion, dominance of the
conceptualized past or future, attachment to the conceptualized self, lack of values clarity, and
unworkable action/inaction) is used to describe the model (Hayes, 2004). The hexaflex model of
psychological inflexibility can be further divided into two, somewhat overlapping processes
(Ciarrochi, Bilich, & Godsell, 2010). The first includes experiential avoidance and low
mindfulness (experiential avoidance, cognitive fusion, dominance of the conceptualized past or

future, attachment to the conceptualized self) whereas the second involves a lack of clarity and
commitment to personal values (lack of values clarity, unworkable action/inaction, dominance of
the conceptualized past or future, attachment to the conceptualized self). A growing literature
supports the notion that psychological inflexibility is related to greater levels of depression,
anxiety, stress, and overall psychological distress (e.g., Bond et al., 2011; Chawla & Ostafin,
2007). Moreover, there is mounting evidence for the efficacy of Acceptance and Commitment
Therapy (ACT) and other acceptance-based behavioral therapies aimed at enhancing
psychological flexibility in addressing a wide range of psychological problems. The goal of the
current study was to explore the potential association between psychological inflexibility and
procrastination. Specifically in two separate samples of students, we examined whether
experiential avoidance, diminished mindfulness and low academic values would contribute to the
variance in procrastination over and above the previously demonstrated contribution of trait
anxiety.
One study has already established a relationship between procrastination and
mindfulness, as measured by two of the four scales of the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness
Skills (KIMS; Baer, Smith, & Allen, 2004), the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS;
Brown and Ryan 2003) and a 3-point scale measuring the extent to which participants practiced
mindfulness in a given week (Sirois & Tosti, 2012). Despite its cross-sectional design, this study
also found preliminary evidence that mindfulness mediates the effects of procrastination on
stress and health.
We hope to replicate and expand on this study by assessing the relationship between
mindfulness and academic procrastination in the larger context of the model of psychological
inflexibility proposed by Hayes and colleagues (1996; 1999; 2004; 2012). If measures of some

of the key psychological processes thought to underlie psychological inflexibility are associated
with procrastination, this finding may have some implications for the use of ACT and other
ABBTs as interventions for this problematic behavior.

Study 1 Method
Participants
Participants in this study were 258 undergraduate psychology students attending a large,
urban university in the Northeast. The sample ranged in age from 18 to 26 (M = 19.51, SD =
1.77) and was comprised of 72% women (n = 185). Seventy-four percent of participants selfidentified as White (Non-Hispanic), 7% as Asian/Pacific Islander, 4% as Other, 3% as
multiracial, 2% as Black/African American, 2% as Middle Eastern, and <1% declined to state
their race. Forty-nine percent of the participants were freshmen, 23% sophomores, 12% juniors,
and 16 % seniors. Participants were recruited for a study on procrastination (i.e., they were aware
of the nature of the study) and received either course or extra credit for their participation.
Materials
Procrastination Assessment Scale-Students (PASS; Solomon & Rothblum, 1984). The
PASS is a 44-item Likert-type self-report measure of trait procrastination. The first part (Total
Problems) was used in the present study. On a five-point scale, students report the frequency
with which they procrastinate as well as the extent to which it creates problems for them. A total
procrastination score (ranging from 12-60) is generated, with higher scores indicating more
procrastination. Reliability for the present sample was .86.
State-Trait Anxiety Inventory-Trait (STAI; Spielberger, 1983). The STAI-T is a
widely used 20-item self-report measure assessing symptoms of anxiety. Responses are scored
on 4-point Likert-type scale from 1 (Almost Never) to 4 (Almost Always). Scores range from 20-

80, with high scores indicating higher levels of trait anxiety. The STAI-T has strong
psychometric properties within student samples (Ramanaiah, Franzen, & Schill, 1983;
Spielberger, 2010). Internal consistency for the present sample was excellent (Cronbachs alpha
= .89).
Action and Acceptance Questionnaire (AAQ; Hayes, Strosahl, Wilson, Bissett,
Pistorello, Toarmino, et al. (2004). The AAQ is a scale that was originally developed to measure
experiential avoidance, a construct proposed to relate to psychological flexibility. However, in
the literature it has been referred to as both a measure of experiential avoidance/acceptance and
one of psychological flexibility (e.g., Varra, Hayes, Roget, & Fisher, 2008). Several versions of
the measure exist, including the AAQ-II (Bond et al., 2011), which was not available at the time
we collected our data. We used a 16-item version of the measure, which we obtained from the
developer (Steven Hayes, personal communication, 1999). Items on this measure are rated on a
7-point Likert-type scale from 1 (Never True) to 7 (Always True). The AAQ can be scored such
that higher scores reflect more acceptance or more experiential avoidance. In the current study,
we scored the AAQ such that higher scores reflect less experiential avoidance or higher
psychological flexibility. The AAQ shows moderate correlations with measures of related
constructs such as thought suppression, thought control, anxiety, and depression (see Hayes et
al., 2004). For the present sample, Cronbachs alpha was .65.
Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills (KIMS; Baer, Smith, & Allen, 2004). The
KIMS is a 39- item scale designed to measure four skills of mindfulness: Observing attending
to internal and external experience, Describing labeling noticed phenomena, Acting with
awareness engaging in present moment activity without distraction, and Accepting (or
allowing) without judgment. Items are scored on a 5-point Likert-type scale from 1 (Never or

Very Rarely True) to 5 (Very Often or Always True), with higher scores indicating a greater
degree of mindfulness. A factor analysis of the KIMS supported a four factor solution and intercorrelations among the scales ranged from .09 to 34 (Baer et al., 2004). Thus, individual scales,
rather than a total score, are typically derived from the measure. In the present sample, the
Cronbachs alphas were .82, .84, .76, and .87 for Observing, Describing, Acting with Awareness,
and Accepting without Judgment, respectively.
Academic Values Questionnaire (AVQ). The AVQ was designed for the present
study to assess the extent to which students value academics and education, based on values as
conceptualized in the ACT model (Hayes, Wilson, & Strosahl, 2012; Wilson & Murrell, 2004). It
consists of five items (e.g. Learning is personally fulfilling for me) scored on a 5-point Likerttype scale from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree). Scores can range from five to 25,
with higher scores indicating greater endorsement of statements reflecting a high value placed on
academics. Internal consistency for this scale was good (Cronbachs alpha = .80). This measure
was developed by reviewing values measures (e.g. Wilson, Sandoz, Kitchen, & Roberts, 2010)
as well as measures specifically related to academics and motivation (Vallerand et al., 1992) and
generating items that would effectively represent this construct. Although there is limited
psychometric data available on this measure as it was developed for the current study, some
evidence for its validity comes from other studies. For example, the AVQ moderated the
relationship between an acceptance based behavioral therapy (ABBT) for procrastination and the
proportion of assigned reading students completed relative to the amount they intended to read
such that ABBT was more effective for students with higher academic values (Glick & Orsillo,
2013). In addition, an ABBT workshop for first-year college and law school students led to
increases in AVQ scores relative to a control group (Danitz & Orsillo, 2013).

Procedure
After providing informed consent, each participant completed an online survey.
Participants were then debriefed as to the purpose of the study.
Study 1 Results
Mean scores and standard deviations on the PASS, the STAI, the AAQ, the subscales of
the KIMS, and the AVQ are presented in Table 1. The response patterns to individual items on
the PASS suggest that one third to one half of the students in this sample reported nearly always
or always procrastinating on important academic tasks. Specifically, 41% of students in the
sample reported almost always or always procrastinating on writing papers, 40% endorsed this
level of procrastination for studying for exams, and 50% reported they almost always or always
procrastinate on assigned reading. There were no differences in procrastination across different
demographic groups (i.e. gender, race, school year).
Rates of procrastination in the current sample were high, but consistent with those found
in other student samples (e.g., Solomon & Rothblum, 1984; Onwuegbuzie, 2004) In contrast,
trait anxiety was higher in this sample than the norms for college students (Spielberger, 1983)
and higher than the cut-off for high anxiety used in other studies using mixed control and clinical
samples (see Phaf & Kan, 2007). Self-reported mindfulness was roughly equivalent to that found
among other samples of college students (e.g., Baer, Smith, & Allen, 2004). To our knowledge,
norms for college students have not been reported for the 16-item AAQ. Finally, although the
AVQ was designed for the present study and therefore has not been normed, the average
suggests that participants strongly agreed with most statements, indicating that they highly
valued academics.

Missing data for all variables were less than 5%. However, scores on the STAI, PASS
and the AVQ were non-normally distributed. Given the nature of our sample (students), we did
not expect the AVQ to be normally distributed. As the residuals of this variable were normally
distributed (an assumption for multiple regression), we used the untransformed variable in
subsequent analyses. In contrast, the skewness of the STAI and the PASS may have been
impacted by the presence of outliers. After examining boxplots (Williamson, Parker, &
Kendrick, 1989) we removed 21 participants from subsequent analyses. We also conducted
square root transformations (Tabatchnick & Fidell, 2013), which yielded normally distributed
variables suitable for our analyses.
The relationship between procrastination and psychological inflexibility is apparent in the
intercorrelations among the variables that are presented in Table 2. As expected, procrastination
was significantly positively correlated with trait anxiety and significantly negatively associated
with acceptance/psychological flexibility, three of the four mindfulness subscales (no
relationship was detected between the Observe subscale of the KIMS and the PASS), and
academic values.
To determine whether acceptance/psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and values
contribute to the variance in procrastination over and above the effects of anxiety, a hierarchical
linear regression was conducted with the STAI entered in the first step, and the AAQ, the three
subscales of the KIMS that were correlated with procrastination (Describe, Act with awareness,
and Accept without judgment; the Observe subscale was dropped due to its lack of correlation
with procrastination), and the AVQ in the second step. As expected, anxiety was significantly
associated with procrastination (r = .06; p < .001). Further, the combined effects of
acceptance/psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and academic values significantly contributed

to the variance accounted for in procrastination above and beyond that predicted by anxiety alone
(r = .22; p < .001). Results are shown in Table 3.
Study 1 Discussion
Our results provide preliminary support for the relationship between procrastination and
psychological inflexibility. Specifically, we found that procrastination is associated with lower
acceptance/psychological flexibility, lower levels of mindfulness, and a lower degree of
academic values. Despite the fact that the combined effect of the questionnaires chosen to
measure psychological flexibility significantly improved the prediction of procrastination over
anxiety, only two measures were uniquely associated with procrastination when all predictors
were accounted for. Although we did not have a priori hypotheses about each specific measure,
the negative association between the Act with Awareness subscale of the KIMS and
procrastination, consistent with the findings of Sirois and Tosti (2013) suggest that a tendency
toward mindless, automatic behavior in daily life could play a unique role in procrastination. The
relationship between the Describe subscale of the KIMS, which measures the extent to which
individuals acknowledge and label their experience, and procrastination, was not examined by
Sirios and Tosti (2013). However, this aspect of mindfulness has previously been demonstrated
to be associated with the widest range of constructs (Baer et al., 2004), suggesting that the ability
to apply words to ones experience is strongly associated with psychological functioning in
general, and perhaps procrastination in particular. It is unclear as to why the other three
measures did not uniquely contribute to the prediction of procrastination. It may be that the
relatively strong association between the AAQ and the Accept without Judgment subscale of the
KIMS with the STAI diminished the unique influence of these two measures on procrastination,
particularly given the magnitude of the bivariate correlations between the Accept without

Judgment subscale of the KIMS and procrastination found in the current study and in the study
conducted by Sirios and Tosti (2013). Given that both psychological flexibility and mindfulness
are proposed to be multifaceted constructs, more research is needed into the unique contributions
of individual components to the development and maintenance of procrastination.
Nonetheless, psychological inflexibility appears to contribute to procrastination over and
above the effects of anxiety, suggesting that anxiety alone does not fully account for
procrastination. Instead, the desire to avoid experiencing this anxiety may lead students to
engage in procrastination. These findings fit into the broader literature on procrastination as a
self-regulatory failure (Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996), specifically facets pertaining to task
aversiveness and distractibility (Steel, 2007).
Although this study provides modest support for our hypotheses, the study is limited by
the particular questionnaires that we used to measure key psychological constructs. For
example, the internal consistency of the AAQ in the current sample was relatively low.
Moreover, since the completion of Study 1, more concise measures of mindfulness, informed by
the bi-dimensional definitions proposed by Kabat-Zinn (1994) and Bishop and colleagues
(2004), have been developed. Thus, in Study 2, we attempted to replicate the relationship
between psychological inflexibility and procrastination a second student sample. However, in
this study we used the revised version of the AAQ (AAQ-II) which was developed to address
some perceived shortcomings with the previous version (e.g., problems with internal consistency
in some samples, possible issues with item complexity, and unstable factor structure; Bond et al.,
2011) and a more concise measure of mindfulness.

Study 2 Method
Participants
Participants in this study were 118 undergraduate and graduate students attending two
large, urban universities in the Northeast. Graduate students were included in order to facilitate
recruitment and contribute to the variability of the sample. The sample ranged in age from 18 to
34 (M = 21.12, SD = 3.09) and was comprised of 59% women (n = 69). Seventy percent of
participants self-identified as White, 14% as Asian, 4% as multiracial, 4% as Black/African
American, 4% as other, and 2% declined to state their race. Twelve percent of the participants
were freshmen, 22% sophomores, 27% juniors, 27 % seniors, and 12% graduate students. Of the
students who provided information on their academic majors, 42% selected business, 17%
natural sciences, 28% social sciences, 1% humanities, 8% other, and 4% were undecided or did
not provide an answer. Participants earned course credit or were paid for their participation.
Materials
As in Study 1, the PASS, STAI, and AVQ were administered. Internal consistency was
.88, .91, and .84, respectively.
Action and Acceptance Questionnaire II (AAQ-II; Bond et al., 2011). The AAQ-II, the
most recent revision of the AAQ is a seven-item Likert-type self-report measure that assesses
acceptance/psychological flexibility. The AAQ-II appears to measure the same concept as the
AAQ-I (r = .97) but with better psychometric consistency (Bond et al., 2011).
Items are rated from 1 (Never True) to 7 (Always True) and scores range from 7-49, with
higher scores corresponding to greater psychological flexibility. In the present sample, the
internal consistency was excellent (Cronbachs alpha = .90).

The Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale (PHL-MS; Cardaciotto et al., 2009) is a 20-item


Likert-type scale designed to measure aspects of mindfulness. Items are rated from 1 (Never) to 5
(Very Often). A factor analysis of the PHL-MS supported a two-factor solution. Thus, the
measure contains two subscales: Awareness continuously attending to present-moment
experiences, and Acceptance being aware of, open to, and compassionate towards experiences.
In the present study the Cronbach alphas were .79 for Awareness and .91 for Acceptance.
Procedure
During the first two weeks of the semester, participants received an online survey as part
of a larger study on procrastination (i.e., students were aware of the nature of the study)
containing the PASS, STAI, AAQ, PHL-MS, and AVQ. They were later debriefed as to the
purpose of the study.
Study 2 Results
Mean scores and standard deviations on the PASS, the STAI, the AAQ-II, the subscales
of the PHL-MS are presented in Table 4. Rates of self-reported procrastination were slightly
higher in this sample 51%, 48%, and 43% of students reporting that they procrastinate nearly
always or always on writing papers, studying for exams, and completing assigned reading,
respectively. Similar to study 1, procrastination scores were within the expected range for
college students (e.g., Solomon & Rothblum, 1984; Onwuegbuzie, 2004), while anxiety ratings
were higher than college student norms (Spielberger, 1983), and above the cutoff for high
anxiety used in other research (e.g.Phaf & Kan, 2007). Given the high levels of anxiety reported
by participants, the previously established relationship between anxiety and psychological
inflexibility (e.g., Hayes et al., 2004), and the average psychological inflexibility typically
reported by college students (Bond et al., 2011), the levels of psychological inflexibility

reported by the participants in the present study were surprisingly low. It is possible that students
high in psychological inflexibility self-selected out of the study, which is a limitation associated
with using a sample of convenience. Scores on both the Awareness and Acceptance subscales of
the PHL-MS were within the established range for a non-clinical college student sample
(Cardaciotto et al., 2008).
A series of independent samples t-tests did not reveal any group differences in
procrastination, psychological flexibility, mindfulness, or values between graduate and
undergraduate students or students from the two different universities. Gender, school year, and
ethnic group were also shown to be unrelated to the aforementioned variables, and all
undergraduate and graduate student data were analyzed together.
As in Study 1, all variables were inspected to establish their appropriateness for the
present analyses. We conducted a square root transformation (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013) to fix
the non-normal distribution of the AAQ. While the AVQ was negatively skewed, there was no
expectation that this measure would be normally distributed among a student sample, and no
transformations were performed. All study measures had minimal missing data (less than 5%)
and normally distributed residuals, confirming their suitability for regression analyses.
The relationship between procrastination and psychological inflexibility in this sample
was similar to that found in Study 1. Procrastination was significantly positively correlated with
trait anxiety and significantly negatively correlated with acceptance/psychological flexibility, the
Acceptance subscale of the PHL-MS, and academic values. No relationship was found between
the Awareness subscale of the PHL-MS and the PASS. Intercorrelations are presented in Table
5.

To determine whether acceptance/psychological flexibility, mindfulness (awareness), and


academic values contribute to the prediction of procrastination over and above the effects of
anxiety, a hierarchical linear regression was conducted with the STAI entered in the first step,
and the AAQ-II, the Acceptance subscale of the PHL-MS (the Awareness subscale was dropped
due to its lack of correlation with procrastination), and the AVQ entered in the second step.
Results showed that anxiety significantly predicted procrastination (r = .19; p < .001). In
addition, the combined effects of acceptance/psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and values
added to the prediction of procrastination above that predicted by anxiety alone approached
significance (r = .06; p < .05). None of the individual constructs entered in the second step
uniquely contributed to the prediction of procrastination. Results are presented in Table 6.
Overall Discussion/Conclusions
Given the ubiquitous nature of procrastination, and its adverse consequences on academic
performance and emotional and physical well-being, conceptually and empirically informed,
effective interventions are needed. An important first step in this endeavor is identifying the
psychological processes that contribute to the cause and maintenance of procrastination. The
present studies were a modest attempt aimed at preliminarily investigating the relationships
among acceptance/psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and academic values and
procrastination. Using two different samples, and different measures of the key constructs,
results from both studies provided suggest that acceptance/psychological flexibility, some
aspects of mindfulness, and academic values together contribute to the prediction of
procrastination over and above the effects of anxiety. This implies that anxiety alone does not
fully explain procrastination and that the combination of variables we used to measure
psychological flexibility makes an incremental contribution to the model. The analytic strategy

used in these studies, hierarchical linear regression, is a useful approach to test theoretical
assumptions about the ways in which specific constructs may add to the prediction of a criterion
variable over and above that which can be accounted for by other important constructs
(Wampold & Freund, 1987; Petrocelli, 2003). Nonetheless, these were preliminary analyses that
would benefit from additional replication using more refined strategies.
While not the first study to examine the link between mindfulness and procrastination
(Sirois & Tosti, 2012), the present study did incorporate additional subscales (e.g. Describe on
the KIMS) and measures (e.g. the PHLMS) to help elaborate upon this relationship. The finding
from the current study that the Observe subscale of the KIMS and the Awareness subscale of the
PHLMS were the only mindfulness subscales not correlated with procrastination is consistent
with the growing research suggesting the complexity of the relationship between awareness of,
and attention to, internal experiences and psychological well-being (e.g., Baker, Holloway,
Thomas, Thomas, & Owens, 2004; Lieschetzke & Eid, 2003; Tull, Barrett, McMillan, &
Roemer, 2007; Tull & Roemer, 2007). One possibility for the lack of association on both of these
subscales is the nuanced interpretation of observation and awareness, which can have different
meanings to individuals who are not familiar with the type of attention fostered in mindfulness
practices (Grossman, 2011). It is also possible that awareness without an accepting or
compassionate quality may actually be detrimental, especially if awareness of internal
experiences is associated with a judgmental stance and difficulty-regulating mood (e.g.,
Lieschetzke & Eid, 2003; Roemer, Lee, Salters-Pedneault, Erisman, Orsillo, & Mennin, 2009).
Unlike the other subscales, the Observe subscale of the KIMS has previously been found to be
positively correlated with thought suppression, dissociation, absent-mindedness, and
psychological symptoms (Baer et al., 2006). Thus, it is not surprising that we failed to find a

negative relationship between the extent to which participants observed, or were aware of their
internal experiences, and procrastination. In the future, researchers may wish to add in a
measure of self-compassion (e.g. Neff, 2003) in order to look at associations between
procrastination and the type of attention participants report.
The characteristics of the students in the current studies might be taken into account when
considering the potential generalizability of our findings. Students in the current sample reported
procrastinating between one-fifth and one-third of the time on major academic activities.
Although these rates are somewhat alarming, they are also consistent with reports from other
samples of college (Solomon & Rothblum, 1984) and graduate (Onwuegbuzie, 2004) students.
Students in the current study also reported levels of mindfulness consistent with other samples
(Baer, Smith, & Allen, 2004; Cardaciotto et al., 2009). Our sample may have been more unique
with regard to their self-reported levels of anxiety and experiential avoidance. Participants in
both samples reported relatively high anxiety (see Phaf & Kan, 2007) and students in Study 2
reported relatively low levels of experiential avoidance as compared to those typically reported
by college students (Bond et al., 2011). It is possible that the relationship between psychological
inflexibility and procrastination could be different in college samples with different
psychological characteristics.
The demographic characteristics of the sample may also limit generalizability. Although
Study 2 included a slightly more diverse sample, both were limited in their race and ethnicity
composition. Previous research (Klassen et al., 2010) has demonstrated cross-cultural differences
in how procrastination is perceived, with Singaporean students reporting stronger negative
beliefs about procrastination than Canadian students. While it is possible that the present sample
at a Western university may have similar views on procrastination, Klassen and colleagues

caution against generalizing their findings to students in other countries. No group differences in
procrastination were found when we compared racial and ethnic groups in both samples, which
is consistent with prior research on race and procrastination (Clark & Hill, 1994). However, it is
also important to note that the current studies were not powered to detect racial or ethnic
differences.
The current studies are also limited on their reliance on self-report, which is especially
problematic due to the lack of a measure of social desirability as well as the difficulty that
individuals who engage in experiential avoidance may have with recognizing and describing
their internal experiences. Furthermore, given that the same data collection method was used to
collect data contemporaneously, false correlations may have emerged. The use of multiple
assessment strategies (e.g. implicit, behavioral) over several time-points would be one potential
solution to this issue of common method variance.
While no moderation models were tested in this study, prior research suggests that the
relationship between fear of failure and procrastination varies based on levels of perceived
competence (Haghbin et al., 2012). Additionally, self-forgiveness has been identified as
mediating the relationship between initial instances of procrastination and subsequent episodes
(Wolf, Pychyl, & Bennet, 2010). Thus, future researchers may consider testing mediation and
moderation models in order to more precisely clarify the associations described in this study.
While the ACT model informed our conceptualization of psychological flexibility, the
combination of measures used in both Study 1 and Study 2 bears clarification from a
methodological perspective. In Study 1, the first version of the AAQ was used, which was
initially developed to assess experiential avoidance (Hayes et al., 2004), but has been described
as both a measure of experiential avoidance and one of psychological inflexibility (e.g., Varra,

Hayes, Roget, & Fisher, 2008). Thus, additional measures of mindfulness and values were
included to more fully capture the constructs proposed to underlie psychological flexibility.
Although these questionnaires did not fully capture all six ACT processes, other studies have
similarly used a subset of questionnaires to measure psychological flexibility (e.g. Biglan,
Layton, Jones, Hankins, & Rusby, 2011; McCracken, 2013; McCracken & Yang, 2008) or
aspects of it. In Study 2, the revised AAQ (AAQ-II) was used, which is explicitly termed a
measure of psychological flexibility and experiential avoidance (Bond et al., 2011). However,
the items on the AAQ-II were developed to reflect the dominance or nondominance of internal
events over contingencies in determining values directed actions (Bond et al., 2011) and no
attempt was made to sample items from all six of the psychological processes proposed to reflect
psychological inflexibility in the development of this measure. Thus, consistent with current
other researchers in this area (e.g. Kangasniemi et al., 2013; McCracken & Velleman, 2010) we
supplemented the AAQ-II with other measures proposed to tap into constructs related to the
psychological flexibility mode. The use of multiple measures in both studies is also beneficial
from a research perspective in order to help address possible inconsistencies in participant
reporting across measures (Kazdin, 2003). Additional research is clearly needed to improve the
measurement of the psychological processes proposed to underlie psychological flexibility.
Another limitation of the present studies is their use of the AVQ, a measure without
validated psychometric properties. Despite the high internal consistency demonstrated in the two
samples and some preliminary evidence for the validity of the measures, much more data on the
reliability and validity of the measure is needed. Also, as constructed, the measure taps into
espoused values but it may or may not reflect enacted values.

The constructs examined within these studies do bear similarities with existing
characteristics thought to be involved with procrastination. Frustration intolerance, developed in
the context of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), is strongly associated with
procrastination (Dryden, 2012; Ellis & Knaus, 1977; Harrington, 2005). Defined as a set of
irrational beliefs that lead individuals to avoid experiencing emotional discomfort and turn away
from these emotional disturbances rather than working through them (Ellis, 1979), frustration
intolerance does overlap with the main idea of experiential avoidance (Hayes et al., 1996).
Although experiential avoidance is one part of the psychological inflexibility model, the
emphasis on pursuing freely chosen goals and valued actions helps to distinguish the latter
(Hayes et al., 2006). Thus, while frustration may be one state that individuals who procrastinate
attempt to control, they could also struggle with boredom, anxiety, fear of failure, and others.
Psychological inflexibility may serve as a higher order factor that unifies these avoided internal
experiences while also highlighting the contributions of lack of values clarity and unworkable
action/inaction. The present studies attempt to reflect the diverse contributions to procrastination
through measuring variables such as mindfulness and academic values, though it is important to
acknowledge the conceptual overlap with existing constructs such as frustration intolerance.
The present study was the first to conceptualize procrastination as a consequence of low
psychological flexibility rather than focusing on it as a result of either poor time management
(e.g., Burka & Yuen, 1983), anxiety (e.g., Solomon & Rothblum, 1984), or difficulties with selfregulation (e.g., Patry, Blanchard, & Mask, 2007). Despite the limitations mentioned above, the
results support the benefits of studying psychological flexibility as a potential underlying
mechanism of procrastination. Furthermore, if low psychological flexibility, low mindfulness,
and a lack of connection to values are common precursors of procrastination, then treatments

aimed at decreasing these tendencies and increasing values-consistent living (see Hayes et al.,
2011; Roemer & Orsillo, 2009) should help to reduce the behavior. In addition, future research
should expand beyond academic procrastination to other areas of procrastination that are likely
to involve emotions and psychological flexibility, including making decisions and initiating
difficult conversations.

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Table 1.
Means, Standard Deviations, and Ranges for Study 1 Variables (N = 258)
Total
M (SD)

Range

PASS

32.74 (8.03)

12 - 60

STAI

43.03 (10.86)

22 - 75

AAQ

62.06 (10.91)

28 - 103

Observe

35.67 (7.77)

12 - 57

Describe

26.79 (5.66)

12 - 40

Act

27.26 (5.65)

10 - 42

Accept

29.62 (6.98)

9 - 45

22.06 (2.97)

5 - 25

KIMS

AVQ

Note: PASS = Procrastination Assessment Scale Students (Total Problems subscale); STAI =
State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (Trait Subscale); AAQ = Acceptance and Action Questionnaire;
KIMS Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills (KIMS); Observe = Observe subscale of the
Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills (KIMS); Describe = Describe subscale of the KIMS;
Act = Act with awareness subscale of the KIMS; Accept = Accept without judgment subscale of
the KIMS; AVQ = Academic Values Questionnaire

Table 2.
Intercorrelations Among Procrastination, Anxiety, Psychological Flexibility, Mindfulness, and
Academic Values (Study 1)
PASSa

STAIa

AAQ

Observe

Describe

Act

STAIa

.25**

AAQ

-.17*

Observe

-.06

Describe

-.24**

-.33**

.32**

-.32**

Act

-.43**

-.35**

.32**

-.15**

.20**

Accept

-.19**

-.55**

.46**

-.34**

.07

.33**

AVQ

-.15*

-.08

.03*

-.02

.01

.18**

Accept

-.61**
03

.03

.03

Note: PASS = Procrastination Assessment Scale for Students; STAI = State-Trait Anxiety
Inventory-Trait Version; AAQ = Action and Acceptance Questionnaire II; Observe = Observe
subscale of the KIMS; Describe = Describe subscale of the KIMS; Act = Act with awareness
subscale of the KIMS; Accept = Accept without judgment subscale of the KIMS; AVQ =
Academic Values Questionnaire
*p<.05
**p<.01
a Square root transformed variable

Table 3
Predictors of Procrastination: Anxiety, Psychological Flexibility, Mindfulness, and Academic
Values (Study 1)
Variable
Step 1

df

.06**

12.91*

1,215

STAIa
Step 2

Beta

.24*
.22**

10.28*

5,210

AAQ

-.07

Describe

-.21*

Act

-.37*

Accept

-.06

AVQ

-.08

Note: STAI = State-Trait Anxiety Inventory-Trait Version; AAQ = Action and Acceptance
Questionnaire II; Describe = Describe subscale of the KIMS; Act = Act with awareness subscale
of the KIMS; Accept = Accept without judgment subscale of the KIMS; AVQ = Academic
Values Questionnaire.
Betas reported are those from the final step at which all variables were entered into the equation.
*p < .001
p < .10
a Square root transformed variable

Table 4.
Means, Standard Deviations, and Ranges for Study 2 Variables (N = 118)
Total
M (SD)

Range

PASS

33.14 (7.64)

12 51

STAI

42.14 (10.08)

21 70

AAQ-2

20.87 (8.81)

8 - 48

Aware

35.49 (5.96)

19 - 50

Accept

30.53 (8.11)

11 - 47

22.48 (2.85)

5 25

PHL-MS

AVQ

Note: PASS = Procrastination Assessment Scale for Students; STAI = State-Trait Anxiety
Inventory-Trait Version; AAQ = Action and Acceptance Questionnaire II; Aware = Awareness
subscale of the Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale (PHL-MS); Accept = Acceptance subscale of the
PHL-MS; AVQ = Academic Values Questionnaire

Table 5.
Intercorrelations among Procrastination, Anxiety, Psychological Flexibility, Mindfulness, and
Academic Values (Study 2)

PASS

STAI

AAQ-

Aware

Accept

2a
STAI

.43**

AAQ-2a

-.40**

Aware

.07

Accept
AVQ

-.82**
-.13

.06

-.20*

-.67**

.64**

.01

-.21*

-.00

.11

-.05

-.17

Note: PASS = Procrastination Assessment Scale for Students; STAI = State-Trait Anxiety
Inventory-Trait Version; AAQ = Action and Acceptance Questionnaire II; Aware = Awareness
subscale of the Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale (PHL-MS); Accept = Acceptance subscale of the
PHL-MS; AVQ = Academic Values Questionnaire
*p < .05
**p < .01
p < .10
a
Square root transformed variable

Table 6. Predictors of procrastination: anxiety, psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and


academic values (Study 2)

Variable
Step 1

df

.19**

26.46**

1,116

STAI
Step 2

Beta

.43*
.06*

2.81*

3,113

AAQ-2a

.16

Accept

.14

AVQ

-.17

Note. STAI = State-Trait Anxiety Inventory-Trait Version; AAQ = Action and Acceptance
Questionnaire II; Accept = Acceptance subscale of the PHL-MS; AVQ = Academic Values
Questionnaire
Betas reported are those from the final step at which all variables were entered into the equation.
**p < .001
*p < .05
a Square root transformed variable