They started out as your typical procrastinators. Perched in front of computer
monitors, a group of monkeys at the National Institute of Mental Health had
a simple job--release a lever each time a red dot on their screens turned
green. If the monkeys were quick enough and completed the task often enough,
a gray bar on their screens would glow brighter and brighter, signaling that
they were coming closer to receiving a reward.
But the monkeys dawdled as long as the gray bar remained dim. Only when it
glowed did they become conscientious. (Sounds like most of us, doesn't it?)
Then their brains were injected with a snippet of DNA that suppressed a gene
linked to their ability to anticipate a reward. According to the Los Angeles
Times, the monkeys no longer understood the meaning of the gray bars-and
they could no longer be sure when they'd receive their rewards. As a result,
they worked their levers "like obsessed gamblers," as the Times put
Voila! Super-efficient workers!
Barry Richmond, a neurologist who led the study, said the work ethic of rhesus
monkeys resembles that of many humans. "If the reward is not immediate,
you procrastinate," he observed.
The Times warns, however, against planning for the day when you can simply
give gene-suppressing injections to distracted or unmotivated employees.
"Perhaps they would look like manic people all the time," Richmond
Angeles Times (registration required)