Can You Catch Laziness?
Some days, you just don’t feel like doing much. It can strike at work, leaving you a lot less productive than usual, or at home when, instead of taking care of chores, relaxing on the couch with the TV remote or checking Facebook posts seems much more appealing. In other words, you’re feeling lazy. It’s okay to allow yourself a bit of laziness now and then, but you definitely don’t want to make this a habit. And you might want to watch who you’re spending time with because it appears to be quite possible that you can “catch” laziness.
The study, which was conducted at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, found that certain traits long believed to be ingrained in our personalities—such as laziness, impatience, and prudence—may in fact be highly influenced by the actions of those around us.1 While your daily habits might suggest that in general you are not, for example, a particularly lazy person, it is entirely possible that the company you keep can produce changes in your behavior that make you subconsciously act more like them.
These results were based on an experiment set up like a lottery with the subjects being offered several choices. The first was deciding between a lottery that offered a 90 percent chance of winning a small sum or one with just a 10 percent chance of winning a large amount. The second choice focused on whether the subjects would rather receive a small reward in three days or wait several months for a more substantial reward. And the third involved the option to either complete a physically demanding task to get a bigger payoff or do an easier task but receive a smaller amount.
After their decisions were made, the volunteers were asked to predict how others would react in these various situations. They were then provided with a list of responses gathered from other participants, which in reality were computer generated, although they had no knowledge of that fact. At that point, the subjects were given the opportunity to decide how they would handle the same scenarios again. Interestingly, without even meeting the other people (remember, there really weren’t any), the participants tended to switch their decisions to be more in line with those of the computer generated “others.”
It would appear that the herd mentality doesn’t require an actual herd to be present, only to be suggested. And it strongly swayed people in each of the categories considered: laziness, impatience, and prudence.
What does all of this mean for you? Well, you probably don’t need to go abandoning all of your friends who might tend to be a little lazy or who become impatient quickly. Just try to be cognizant of when you are with people who might be affecting you in a negative way. For instance, if you’re at the office and a lazy colleague is trying to engage you in chit-chat for too long in an attempt to avoid doing actual work, don’t give in to the temptation. Politely excuse yourself to get back to what you know you need to do. In other words, be aware of what’s happening so you don’t let their laziness rub off on you.
While you don’t want to give up on your friends whose habits are worse than yours, it might not hurt to try to gravitate toward those who can help you up your game. Spend time with others who will motivate you to get things accomplished, act wisely, and be a model of patience. This can apply to bettering yourself on the job, in personal relationships, and even in becoming inspired to live a healthier life (like hanging out more with the friend who’s always wanting to hit the gym together as to opposed to the one who wants to pick up a half gallon of ice cream and watch TV). If you up your game, then maybe some of your improved habits will be contagious and help your less motivated friends to pick up their own slack as well. And don’t forget to surround yourself with joyful types too. Happiness is another behavior that was found, in a 2015 study at Harvard University and the University of California at San Diego, to be contagious.2
- 1. Devaine, Marie and Daunizeau, Jean. "Learning about and from others' prudence, impatience or laziness: The computational bases of attitude alignment." PLoS Computational Biology. 30 March 2017. 2 April 2017. http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005422.
- 2. Fowler, James H. and Christakis, Nicholas A. "Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study." BMJ. 5 December 2008. 3 April 2017. http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2338.