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Published: 3 month

Even though workaholics spend more time at work, their performance doesn't improve - and we find out why!

Researchers at the ELTE Faculty of Education and Psychology (EPP) have uncovered the cognitive characteristics of work addiction in a groundbreaking study. Their results show several substantial differences in thinking and memory between workaholics and non-workaholics.

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With no research yet available on the thought processes involved in work addiction, researchers and colleagues at ELTE PPK set out to establish a cognitive profile of work addiction. The results of their study have been published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports, ELTE said in a statement on Wednesday.

Work addiction is very similar to other behavioural addictions, such as gambling addiction or sex addiction, in terms of negative consequences.

"While not yet formally considered a mental disorder and there is still no generally accepted definition of the phenomenon, it is safe to say that such individuals have such an excessive need to work that it is already causing noticeable disruption to their physical and mental health, personal relationships and social life. When they are not allowed to work, they experience psychological withdrawal symptoms and attempts to reduce their workload are usually unsuccessful,

they explained.

This problem is of growing concern to professionals because the prevalence of work addiction is between 7 and 40 percent, depending on the country, and thus affects a significant proportion of the population. However, there is no research yet on the thought processes that are associated with work addiction.

Researchers at ELTE PPK and their colleagues conducted a face-to-face study involving people at high risk of work addiction and those at low risk. The two groups had to complete various neuropsychological tests and memory tasks.

Comparing the results, the researchers found a number of differences in the working memories of workaholics and non-workaholics, as well as in their so-called inhibitory functions.

For example, the high-risk group performed better on tasks that required them to remember information for a short period of time. In such simple memory tasks, they may have been helped by traits such as persistence, conscientiousness and perfectionism, they wrote. In more complex tasks, where information not only has to be remembered but also refreshed and controlled, the workaholics performed worse.A possible explanation, the researchers said, is that these people are typically overloaded, which hinders their ability to perform more complex tasks properly.

They suggest that multitasking may play a pronounced role in work dependence, which may be linked to limited working memory capacity. This may be the reason why, although addicts spend more time working than their colleagues, they do not perform better.

The research also found that addicts have poorer inhibitory control. This means they find it harder to suppress inappropriate thoughts and impulses, and often react violently without careful thought.

Inhibitory control also plays an important role in organisation and planning, so its deterioration can have a significant impact on the quality of life and performance of workaholics.Impulsivity can also manifest itself in taking on too many tasks because they don't think about their capacity - this increased workload leads to workaholic behaviour, they have shown.

It remains to be seen whether these cognitive abnormalities are a risk factor for developing work addiction, or whether it is during the course of addiction that memory and inhibitory functions begin to deteriorate. Further studies are needed to establish the exact relationship, but this research alone may bring professionals closer to diagnosing work addiction and finding possible treatment pathways, the ELTE statement concluded.

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