College Students and Procrastination: Understanding a Target Audience

Research has shown that 80% of college students procrastinate; a practice that many college students are far too familiar with. Most college students would probably admit that they have procrastinated on an assignment at some point in their years of school, and even on a regular basis. Additionally, putting off the responsibilities of school and scrolling on Instagram is something we have all probably done. Chinese researchers Ruihang Shen of Northwestern University and Meina Liu of George Washington University conducted research in this area of study, attempting to gain further understanding in different cultures on how and why students procrastinate in relation to their time orientation, social media usage, and various coping styles. They studied from a cross cultural perspective how and why social media usage may or may not effect procrastination in China and the United States.

Studies indicate that procrastination is related to other traits such as low confidence, stress, depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, disorganization, and a lack of energy that all reveal poor psychological wellbeing. Shen and Liu studied the role social media plays in relationship to procrastination; does it contribute to a poor psychological wellbeing or help mitigate it? When students were coping together and supporting one another, their stress levels decreased and so did their frequency of procrastination. In comparison, when students seek support online it raises their avoidance levels and promotes internet addictions.

The participants for this study were 224 college students attending Chinese and American universities, 123 students being Chinese and 101 being American. The average age was 21. Of the 123 Chinese students, 78 were female and 45 were male. Of the American students, 87 were women and 18 were male. The Chinese participants on average spent 4.48 hours a day on social media, and American participants spend an average of 3.71 hours.

Having a high consideration for future consequences, or being more concerned for how current actions will affect your future, led to less procrastination. If the participant had a present time orientation, they were more likely to procrastinate. Motives for using social media were recorded to determine the reasoning behind someone using social media apps.

Essentially, what motivated them to pick up their phone and log into social media? For example, one of the response options to be chosen was, “I use social media because it’s enjoyable.” Coping styles were recorded to better understand why a participant may engage in an action to manage their stress. Such as answering, “I do this a lot” when asked “Do you seek emotional support from others when you are stressed out?” Additional avoidance tendencies were measured through asking questions regarding the characteristics of a person who procrastinates. Such as the tendency of feeling rushed when completing an online task.

The results of this study reported that Chinese students were overall more likely to procrastinate than American students. They had similar reports of concerns for future consequences and their high use of avoidant coping tendencies. American students reported to be more likely to use social media for entertainment reasons. This includes going on social media to watch videos, connect with influencers and generally be entertained. Another strong desire to use social media can be to solve problems and seek out information. Both of these contribute to avoidant tendencies because students are ultimately reaching for their phones instead of completing their work. The use of social media for entertainment or relaxation instead of completing an assignment reflects the lack of both prioritization of tasks and future goal orientation by college students.

Those who live in the “right now” moments and don’t consider what is ahead are far more likely to procrastinate. We think we are using social media to find information to help with our procrastination of an assignment, but we actually procrastinate more. When this happens students may be experiencing a psychological trap. Being mindful of future goals and future consequences is key in resisting social media use at poor times and overall eliminating procrastination in our lives.

So, what does this mean for the practice of Integrated Marketing Communication? It is important to look at research like this to understand how specific target audiences operate. When planning to market and communicate to college students through social media, it is essential to understand how and why they use social media. Understanding that some of the main reasons students use social media are for entertainment, relaxation, problem solving and information seeking will help an IMC team to target their messages with precision. Identifying motivations behind college students’ choices, which can lead to procrastination, further provide information when marketing to this group. When IMC experts know these motivations are attributed to time orientation and coping styles they are more equipped to market to this audience effectively. Certain services or products can be advertised to this demographic that would not be applicable to others. Ultimately, research such as Shen and Liu’s teaches IMC professionals how to use a targeted consumer approach informed by the habits and desires of the audience.

Olivia Nelson is a senior majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in Studio Art with a focus in Integrated Marketing Communication and Graphic Design. When she isn’t studying brand strategies or practicing her design skills, she enjoys trips to the beach and a warm cup of coffee.


Shen, R, Liu M. Time Orientation, Social Media Use, and Coping Style: Cultural Similarities and Differences in How and Why College Students Procrastinate. Chine Media Research, 2019.