Are we more akratic than average?

post by ata · 2010-11-15T23:08:53.341Z · score: 8 (9 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 5 comments

Akrasia is a topic that shows up on LW very frequently. Is there evidence that this is related to any of the traits that correlate with LW participation (high intelligence, non-neurotypical to some greater or lesser degree, inclination toward far thinking, anything else we know from the (old) survey or any other polls I'm forgetting)? Or is it just a problem in instrumental rationality that most or all people deal with from time to time, for which there is limited scientific understanding and therefore very little science underlying the mainstream advice, thus making it (seemingly) low-hanging fruit for rationalists?

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comment by grouchymusicologist · 2010-11-16T01:53:03.054Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I doubt we have more of it. But it seems fairly clear that we worry about it more. Two related hypotheses concerning why:

(1) Think about the kinds of things LW commenters do for a living: lots of programmers, a fair number of engineers and the like, plenty of students or people otherwise in academia. Those jobs share the characteristic of requiring a lot of solitary, focused work, which is easy to procrastinate from. Furthermore, in those jobs, we often have the choice of working a little less hard with no obvious, immediate drawback: a perfect breeding grounds for akrasia.

(2) Think about the kinds of things we procrastinate from. There's work, sure, but to a large degree also, there's stuff that we want to be spending our non-work time doing: reading improving books, teaching ourselves more math, etc. Those things (which have a pretty delayed payoff and are difficult and not always fun) share a lot of characteristics with our jobs in being easy to procrastinate from. And the desire to spend non-work time doing stuff like that is clearly massively correlated with LW readership.

If you imagine the ideal non-LW person -- who has a heavily supervised, impossible-to-procrastinate-from job, and who has no ambition to spend evenings and weekends other than in totally hedonistic leisure activities -- that person might be as prone as we are to akrasia, in some biological sense, but essentially never gets a chance to act on it.

Frankly, since I think most of us have more interesting jobs and more interesting hobbies than most people, I think we're correct in general to be worried that akrasia is costing us a lot at the margins.

comment by Friendly-HI · 2011-06-16T13:49:26.095Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Couldn't have put it better. My compliments for a lucid and concise assessment.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-11-15T23:28:03.912Z · score: 21 (27 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or is it a problem for people who spend a lot of time reading and posting to a website?

comment by Relsqui · 2010-11-16T06:31:38.343Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ding.

comment by Nick_Roy · 2010-11-16T20:37:45.335Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder if it has something to do with the self-improvement angle of Less Wrong being "a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality", which is a goal that keeps people coming here in the long run. Being interested in self-improvement, we're also interested in reducing akrasia, a major obstacle to self-improvement.