We all know people who all but pride themselves on being late. You can count on them to fib a bit on how close they are to being ready, or to have a million excuses when they rush in the door with a latte in their hand, or just to merely deem their approach “fashionably late.” For most of the rest of us, this can be a source of great annoyance. It’s just plain rude!
However, a recent study may lend some backup to the tardy camp. A 2003 study found that there is a strong connection between tardiness and success and creativity. This can be explained by identifying how Type A and Type B personalities, the two groups into which psychologists have been breaking up the human population since the 1950s, conceptualize time. Type A people are more competitive and impatient, while Type B people are more relaxed and creative.
In the 2003 study, the research participants were asked to guess how much time had passed (the actual time elapsed was one minute). People from the Type A subject group guessed an average of 58 seconds had passed, white group type B guessed that an average of 77 seconds. To sum it up, creatively intelligent people are more likely to be late, and therefore the people in your life who tend to be late are more likely to be creatively intelligent.
On the flip side, for quite some time before this study, psychologists have linked being late to rather negative personality traits. Not only does consistent tardiness insult others, but it can also bely a lack of certain valuable virtues. It can convey that the late person has a lack of intelligence, a lack of time management skills, and a slippery grasp on their own priorities. It can also betray a lack of will power and empathy. Tardiness can also bely self-deception. Setting unrealistic goals and kidding yourself about how much time it takes to get from A to B is a surefire way to become chronically late.
More seriously, whether consciously or unconsciously, a person may be using their tardiness as a way to express anger and aggression. This manifests in something that should be familiar to all of us: passive-aggression. For those who appear to have an almost exaggerated sense of calmness, being late can be a passive way to convey that they do not want to meet the needs of others, and perhaps harbor ill will towards them. Passive-aggression is a way for people to express their anger without incurring the full social and emotional costs that would come with a more overt show of aggression.
Another potential personality cue belied by tardiness is insecurity. While being late may send out the message, “I think I’m more important than you,” what it could actually mean is quite the opposite. A person may feel so inferior that the only way they can think of to up their authority is to be late, thus reclaiming some of the power in the situation. This, of course, is just another form of passive-aggression. In can also mean that the person harbors some resentment. For example, in psychotherapy, the patient will often passive-aggressively show their resentment for the process by showing up late, or not showing up at all, to their appointment.
Whichever camp you fall into, it’s important to remember that your punctuality, or lack there of, says more about you than you think. While tardiness is certainly derided as being a bad habit, it may actually mean that you are just more relaxed than your peers. Whether this fits in with social norms or not, is another think altogether. However, tardiness can also bely something more sinister, like aggression or resentment. So next time you see that you’re running a few minutes late, stop to think why. If you were just being a little too optimistic about the time you had to get ready, shoot your friend a text. No aggression there!
Burton, Neel. “The Psychology of Lateness.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 16 June 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201406/the-psychology-lateness.
CONTE, JEFFREY & HONIG SCHWENNEKER, HEATHER & F. DEW, ANGELA & M. ROMANO, DONNA. (2001). Incremental Validity of Time Urgency and Other Type A Subcomponents in Predicting Behavioral and Health Criteria1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology – J APPL SOC PSYCHOL. 31. 1727-1748. 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2001.tb02748.x.
Hunter, John Stanley. “People Who Always Run Late Are More Successful and Creative – Here’s Why.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 15 July 2016, nordic.businessinsider.com/people-who-always-run-late-are-more-successful-and-creative-2016-7/.