Laziness is contagious - study

A lazy man at work
Acting similarly to those around us is probably an evolutionary strategy (Getty)

If you think you can get away with being lazy at work while others pick up the slack, think again.

New research has found laziness is contagious - as are impatience and prudence.

Scientists in France got 56 volunteers to make "a series of decisions involving risks, delays or efforts". Some of the decision-making came before observing the actions of another, some afterward.

What the participants didn't know is they were in fact watching decisions made by an algorithm programmed to show signs of either laziness, prudence or impatience.

They found over time, the participants exhibited behaviour similar to the algorithm they were observing.

"Their attitude tends to become more similar to those of people around them," the Brain and Spine Institute researchers said in a statement.

"'Prudence, impatience or laziness are typically thought of as entrenched personality traits that guide how people weigh the cost of risk, delay and effort. However, new research shows that people's attitudes towards effort, delay, or risk drift towards those of others."

Acting similarly to those around us is probably an evolutionary strategy, the scientists say.

"Being exposed to others' attitudes towards delay, effort or risk provides the observer with an opportunity to learn utile information regarding 'best' policies.

"Attitude alignment may have adaptive fitness, essentially because it serves to correct potentially inaccurate (oddball) innate traits."

The research was published Friday (NZ time) in PLOS Computational Biology.