Psychology behind why some people are always running late

We all know someone who just never shows up on time, usually trailing in 20 minutes after the arranged time. This may be you even. Plenty of research has surfaced trying to figure out why some of us are like this. Human behaviour lecturer Alfie Kohn suggests a couple of reasons why people could be chronically late.

  • Some unconsciously enjoy the attention of making an entrance
  • Some may be too self involved and wrapped up in their own lives and needs to consider that they are making people wait.

However, he notes that perhaps they have a tendency to lose themselves in whatever they’re currently doing and don’t discover what time it is until it’s too late. A study in 2016 by washington psychologists Emily Waldun and Mark Mcdaniel looked into this theory and described it as time-based prospective memory (TBPM).

During the experiment, they gave subjects a set time to complete a task such as a puzzle with an advantage of being able to check the clock. But most participants would likely be preoccupied to check the time. This is similar to when you get engrossed from reading a book or scrolling through your instagram feed.

You might be at home with five minutes to spare before you need to leave for work, however, while you think only five minutes has passed, you’ve let twenty minutes slip by. People who are good at TBPM tasks appear to be better at regulating their own timekeeping behaviour. It is important to be able to gauge the amount of time something might take. For example next time you need to drive somewhere, check traffic updates to see how long it will take to reach your destination.

For some people, being late just beats the alternative. Some people just don’t like to be early. Sometimes it is just inefficient to be hanging around waiting for some to arrive. Theres also social faux pas to be aware of, such as the understanding that nobody shows up for a dinner party that’s starts at 7pm. They will always arrive after this time. New york times article suggests consistent lateness is driven by optimism. For example, the ability to believe a 25 minute commute will only take 10 minutes, if everything goes in your favour. Popular writer tim urban also calls this behaviour insanity, which is a fair point.

There are many reasons that could explain the reason individuals are late. If you narrow down your own personal culprit, you might be able to snap out of the habit (unless you don’t want to).