1. Study suggests motivational music increases risk-taking but does not improve sports performance

    February 11, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    A new study finds that listening to motivational music during sport activities and exercise increases risk-taking behavior but does not improve overall performance. The effect was more noticeable among men and participants who selected their own playlist. The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, also found that self-selected music had the power to enhance self-esteem among those who were already performing well, but not among participants who were performing poorly.

    Listening to motivational music has become a popular way of enhancing mood, motivation and positive self-evaluation during sports and exercise. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence of music being used in this way, such as the famous Maori “Haka” performed by New Zealand’s national rugby team to get into the right mindset before games. However, the psychological processes and mechanisms that explain the motivational power of music are poorly understood.

    “While the role of music in evoking emotional responses and its use for mood regulation have been a subject of considerable scientific interest, the question of how listening to music relates to changes in self-evaluative cognitions has rarely been discussed,” says Dr. Paul Elvers of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and one of the study’s authors. “This is surprising, given that self-evaluative cognitions and attitudes such as self-esteem, self-confidence and self-efficacy are considered to be sensitive to external stimuli such as music.”

    The research team investigated whether listening to motivational music can boost performance in a ball game, enhance self-evaluative cognition and/or lead to riskier behavior. The study divided 150 participants into three groups that performed a ball-throwing task from fixed distances and filled in questionnaires while listening to either participant-selected music, experimenter-selected music or no music at all. To assess risk-taking behavior, the participants were also allowed to choose the distances to the basket themselves. The participants received monetarily incentivized points for each successful trial.

    The data show that listening to music did not have any positive or negative impact on overall performance or on self-evaluative cognitions, trait self-esteem or sport-related anxiety. However, it did increase the sense of self-esteem in participants who were performing well and also increased risk-taking behavior — particularly in male participants and participants who could choose their own motivational music. Moreover, the researchers also found that those who made riskier choices earned higher monetary rewards.

    “The results suggest that psychological processes linked to motivation and emotion play an important role for understanding the functions and effects of music in sports and exercise,” says Dr. Elvers. “The gender differences in risk-taking behavior that we found in our study align with what previous studies have documented.”

    However, more research is required to fully understand the impact of motivational music on the intricate phenomena of self-enhancement, performance and risky behavior during sports and exercise.

    “We gathered evidence of the ability of music to increase risk-taking behavior, but more research is needed to improve the robustness of this finding. Additional research is also needed to address the potential mechanisms that may account for the finding. We believe that music’s ability to induce pleasure as well as its function with respect to self-enhancement serve as promising candidates for future investigations,” Dr. Elvers concludes.


  2. Study suggests use of mobile devices at home can carry conflict to workplace

    January 16, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Texas at Arlington press release:

    A University of Texas at Arlington researcher is part of a team of authors who have found that using a mobile device at home for work purposes has negative implications for the employee’s work life and also their spouse.

    Wayne Crawford, assistant professor of management in UTA’s College of Business, was one of five authors on “Your Job Is Messing With Mine! The Impact of Mobile Device Use for Work During Family Time on the Spouse’s Work Life,” recently published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

    Dawn Carson, Baylor University; Meredith Thompson, Utah State University; and Wendy Boswell and Dwayne Whitten, Texas A&M University; also contributed to the study.

    In all, 344 married couples were surveyed. All participants worked fulltime and used mobile devices or tablets at home for work purposes.

    “There is plenty of research on technology and how it affects employees,” Crawford said. “We wanted to see if this technology use carried over to affect the spouse negatively at work.”

    The couples’ survey results showed that use of a mobile device during family time resulted in lower job satisfaction and lower job performance.

    “It’s really no surprise that conflict was created when a spouse is using a mobile device at home,” Crawford said. “They’re sometimes engaging in work activities during family time. What that ultimately leads to, though, is trouble at work for both spouses. So, whether companies care or don’t care about employees being plugged in, those firms need to know that the relationship tension created by their interaction with their employees during non-work hours ultimately leads to work-life trouble.”

    Abdul Rasheed, chair of the Department of Management, said Crawford’s work is illuminating for businesses.

    “That extra time spent on mobile devices after hours might not be worth it if the grief it causes results in productivity losses once the conflict is carried back to work,” Rasheed said. “Businesses have to think about accomplishing tasks more efficiently while people are at work.”


  3. Study suggests human-like virtual assistants can deter help-seeking

    January 15, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Virtual assistants have become increasingly sophisticated — and more humanlike — since the days when Clippy asked if you needed help with your document. These assistants are intended to make programs and apps easier to use, but research published in Psychological Science suggests that humanlike virtual assistants may actually deter some people from seeking help on tasks that are supposed to measure achievementPsychological Science is a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “We demonstrate that anthropomorphic features may not prove beneficial in online learning settings, especially among individuals who believe their abilities are fixed and who thus worry about presenting themselves as incompetent to others,” says psychological scientist and study author Daeun Park of Chungbuk National University. “Our results reveal that participants who saw intelligence as fixed were less likely to seek help, even at the cost of lower performance.”

    Previous research has shown that people are inclined to see computerized systems as social beings with only a couple social cues. This social dynamic can make the systems seem less intimidating and more user-friendly, but Park and coauthors Sara Kim and Ke Zhang wondered whether that would be true in a context where performance matters, such as with online learning platforms.

    “Online learning is an increasingly popular tool across most levels of education and most computer-based learning environments offer various forms of help, such as a tutoring system that provides context-specific help,” says Park. “Often, these help systems adopt humanlike features; however, the effects of these kinds of help systems have never been tested.”

    In one online study, the researchers had 187 participants complete a task that supposedly measured intelligence. In the task, participants saw a group of three words (e.g., room, blood, salts) and were supposed to come up with a fourth word that related to all three (e.g., bath). On the more difficult problems, they automatically received a hint from an onscreen computer icon — some participants saw a computer “helper” with humanlike features including a face and speech bubble, whereas others saw a helper that looked like a regular computer.

    Participants reported greater embarrassment and concerns about self-image when seeking help from the anthropomorphized computer versus the regular computer, but only if they believed that intelligence is a fixed, not malleable trait.

    The findings indicated that a couple of anthropomorphic cues are sufficient to elicit concern about seeking help, at least for some individuals. Park and colleagues decided to test this directly in a second experiment with 171 university students.

    In the experiment, the researchers manipulated how the participants thought about intelligence by having them read made-up science articles that highlighted either the stability or the malleability of intelligence. The participants completed the same kind of word problems as in the first study — this time, they freely chose whether to receive a hint from the computer “helper.”

    The results showed that students who were led to think about intelligence as fixed were less likely to use the hints when the helper had humanlike features than when it didn’t. More importantly, they also answered more questions incorrectly. Those who were led to think about intelligence as a malleable trait showed no differences.

    These findings could have implications for our performance using online learning platforms, the researchers conclude:

    “Educators and program designers should pay special attention to unintended meanings that arise from humanlike features embedded online learning features,” says Park. “Furthermore, when purchasing educational software, we recommend parents review not only the contents but also the way the content is delivered.”

     


  4. Study finds high-pressure expectations may lead to unethical behavior

    November 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Georgia press release:

    It can happen in the branch office or the boardroom. Volkswagen did it to pass emissions tests. Wells-Fargo did it to squeeze more profits from their customers. Some school districts have it done it to boost their standardized test scores. Workplace cheating is a real and troublesome phenomenon, and new research from the University of Georgia explains how it starts — and how employers can help prevent it.

    “It’s the desire for self-protection that primarily causes employees to cheat,” said Marie Mitchell, an associate professor of management in UGA’s Terry College of Business. “Employees want to look valuable and productive, especially if they think their job is at risk.”

    In a recently published paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Mitchell and her co-authors examined performance pressure in the workplace and the behaviors that result from it. They found when employees feel their job depends on meeting high benchmarks, some fudge results in order to stay employed.

    For example, when Wells Fargo employees were told to meet new goals that included opening sky-high numbers of new accounts, thousands began to open fraudulent accounts in order to meet their quotas. Wells Fargo was fined $185 million in 2016 and publicly scorned as a result. Similar scenarios can play out across all industries, Mitchell said.

    “We’ve seen it in finance, we’ve seen it with educators and test scores, we’ve seen it in sports, it’s everywhere,” she said. “Performance pressure elicits cheating when employees feel threatened. Even though there is the potential of getting a good payoff if they heighten their performance, there’s also significant awareness that if they don’t, their job is going to be at risk.”

    This is especially true when employees feel they cannot meet expectations any other way. That perception leads to anger, which in turn leads to unethical behavior, Mitchell said. This crucible of pressure and anger causes employees to focus on doing what is beneficial to them — even if it harms others.

    “Angry and self-serving employees turn to cheating to meet performance demands. It’s understandable,” Mitchell said. “There’s a cycle in which nothing is ever good enough today. Even if you set records last month, you may get told to break them again this month. People get angry about that, and their self-protective reflex is elicited almost subconsciously.”

    An expert on “dark side” behaviors and a former human resources manager, Mitchell has been interested in cheating phenomena since her graduate school days.

    “There were individuals in law school who would race to get to law journals before anyone else and tear out certain pages so that other students couldn’t be as prepared in class,” she said. “So I know cheating happens. I’ve seen it. But the research on this has taken place in behavioral labs, and that doesn’t always translate well to the workplace. I wanted to find out a bit more about what actually happens at work.”

    To do so, her research team devised three studies. The first created a measure of workplace cheating behavior through a nationwide survey that asked participants about cheating behavior at work — what it is and if they’d seen it. The second and third studies were time-separated field surveys in which employees were asked about their performance pressure at one point in time, then were asked about their feelings and perceptions of the pressure and their cheating behaviors about a month later.

    The findings led to a breakthrough. The key, Mitchell said, is for managers to understand the potential threat of performance pressure to employees. If they coach employees on how to view pressure as non-threatening and focus on how to enhance performance ethically, cheating may be prevented.

    “It could be that if you pair performance pressure with ethical standards and give employees the right kind of assurance within the workplace, it can actually motivate great performance,” she said. “There have been many scholars who have argued that you need to stretch your employees because it motivates them, makes them step outside of their normal boxes and be more creative. Our research says that it could, but it also might cause them to act unethically.”

    The paper, “Cheating Under Pressure: A Self-Protection Model of Workplace Cheating Behavior,” was co-authored by Michael D. Baer of Arizona State University, Maureen L. Ambrose and Robert Folger of the University of Central Florida and Noel F. Palmer of the University of Nebraska-Kearney.


  5. Study suggests ways to make email and other technology interruptions productive

    November 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Stephen J.R. Smith School of Business, Queen’s University press release:

    The average knowledge worker enjoys a measly five minutes of uninterrupted time and, once interrupted, half won’t even get back to what they were doing in the first place. Yet organizational expectations or social pressures make it hard to resist the urge to check incoming emails or text messages — pressing tasks be damned.

    Research suggests that such interruptions are not necessarily bad, and can even be productive.

    “I know from personal experience that some interruptions are actually good,” says Shamel Addas, an assistant professor of information systems at Smith School of Business. “It depends on the content and timing. You can get some critical information that will help, like completing your task. So that’s one of the assumptions I feel needs to be challenged and tested.”

    Addas has conducted several studies to learn more about the relationship between technology-related interruptions and performance.

    He found that interruptions that did not relate to primary activities undermined workers’ performance — they led to higher error rates, poorer memory, and lower output quality. It also took longer for workers to return to their primary work and complete their tasks. Such interruptions also had an indirect effect on performance by increasing workers’ stress levels.

    Email interruptions that related to workers’ primary activities increased stress levels as well but also boosted workers’ performance. Such interruptions were tied to mindful processing of task activities, which led to better performance both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.

    Addas also discovered that the very features of the interrupting technology can influence the outcomes of the interruptions positively or negatively. Individuals who engaged in several email threads of conversations at the same time or those who kept getting interrupted by email but let the messages pile up in their in-box experienced higher stress levels and lower performance.

    And those who reprocessed their received messages during interruptions episodes or rehearsed their message responses before sending saw some benefits. Doing this enabled them to process their tasks more mindfully, Addas says, which boosted their performance.

    What does this mean for managers? For one thing, just recognizing that there are different types of interruptions, each with its own trade off, can help managers mitigate the negative impacts on performance and stress.

    Addas suggests that managers develop email management programs and interventions, such as specifying a time-response window for emails based on their urgency or relevance to primary activities. They can also establish periods of quiet time for uninterrupted work. And they can encourage work groups to develop effective coordination strategies to ensure one person’s interruptions do not adversely affect colleagues.

    As for individuals, they can start handling interruptions in batch rather than in real time to reduce the costs of switching back and forth between tasks and interruptions. To reduce stress from overload, Addas suggests, people should limit parallel exchanges during interruptions and delete or folder messages that are of limited use for their core work.

    “People might well consider thinking about the messages they construct and examining carefully their previously received messages as needed to ensure that they process their tasks more mindfully, which is beneficial for performance,” Addas says.

    Addas believes there are design implications to consider as well, particularly relating to context aware systems and email clients. Context aware systems know what kinds of tasks people are working on and can detect high and low periods of workload. “Email clients can be programmed to screen messages for task-relevant content and distinguish between incongruent and congruent interruptions,” he says. “They can then manipulate the timing at which each type of interruption is displayed to users, such as masking incongruent interruptions until a later time.”


  6. Little known theory could hold key to sporting success

    September 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Manchester University press release:

    An established but little known psychological theory is likely to improve performances across a range of activities, including sport, according to new research.

    Perceptual Control Theory can be applied to amateurs or skilled performers alike says psychologist Dr Warren Mansell, from The University of Manchester.

    The theory argues that when trying to improve performance, teaching people what to do is less effective than teaching them how to picture the outcome.

    It has been already been used to accurately model the skills necessary for fielders to get to the right location on the pitch to catch a ball, such as in baseball or cricket.

    But according to Dr Mansell, it could be used across sport and the performing arts.

    To test the theory, the 48 participants in Dr Mansell’s study were asked to draw images using different instructions.

    The images ranged from complex to simple symbols and participants were asked to either copy them directly, copy from memory, or copy by giving instructions on how to move the pen. They were also told draw the image after being told what it looked like.

    Describing the image led to significantly more accurate drawings than giving the instructions for what movements to make.

    He said: “We commonly instruct people in terms of the physical actions they must carry out in order to perform any task.

    “Our study — which we think is the first of its kind — tests the effect of describing how to perform a skill in terms of the perception of the outcome compared to the observable actions.

    “And the results were fascinating: the accuracy of the drawings where participants were told what to perceive was almost as good as copying the image directly.”

    The theory could also be applied to dance, says Dr Mansell: learning a complex routine is all about an internal sense of where it feels right, rather than obsessing on movements, he argues.

    He added: “There is a physiological explanation to this: muscle groups interfere with each other by contracting against another when performing a variety of tasks — whether that’s drawing, dancing or catching a ball.

    So you may not be able to accurately instruct your limbs what to do, but creating a mental picture of the desired outcome gets around that in efficient manner.

    Carla Brown-Ojeda, the student who conducted the study, explained: “Different coaches in sport use a wide array of methods, some of which involve the coach directly instructing the learner how to move. Yet if our research generalises, then a simpler, purely ‘perceptual’, method might be developed.”


  7. Study suggests engaging in casual video game play during rest breaks can help restore mood in response to workplace stress

    August 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society press release:

    More than half of Americans regularly experience cognitive fatigue related to stress, frustration, and anxiety while at work. Those in safety-critical fields, such as air traffic control and health care, are at an even greater risk for cognitive fatigue, which could lead to errors. Given the amount of time that people spend playing games on their smartphones and tablets, a team of human factors/ergonomics researchers decided to evaluate whether casual video game play is an effective way to combat workplace stress during rest breaks.

    In their Human Factors article (now online), “Searching for Affective and Cognitive Restoration: Examining the Restorative Effects of Casual Video Game Play,” Michael Rupp and coauthors used a computer-based task to induce cognitive fatigue in 66 participants, who were then given a five-minute rest break. During the break, participants either played a casual video game called Sushi Cat, participated in a guided relaxation activity, or sat quietly in the testing room without using a phone or computer. At various times throughout the experiment, the researchers measured participants’ affect (e.g., stress level, mood) and cognitive performance.

    Those who took a silent rest break reported that they felt less engaged with work and experienced worry as a result, whereas those who participated in the guided relaxation activity saw reductions in negative affect and distress. Only the video game players reported that they felt better after taking the break.

    Rupp, a doctoral student in human factors and cognitive psychology at the University of Central Florida, notes, “We often try to power through the day to get more work finished, which might not be as effective as taking some time to detach for a few minutes. People should plan short breaks to make time for an engaging and enjoyable activity, such as video games, that can help them recharge.”


  8. New mindfulness method helps coaches, athletes score

    August 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    When it comes to success in sports, coaches and athletes understand that there’s a mental component, but many don’t have an understanding of how to prepare psychologically. That’s where the concept of mindfulness can be beneficial, via a program to help athletes and coaches at all levels develop that mental edge and improve their performance.

    “It’s been suggested that many coaches regard sport as at least 50 percent mental when competing against opponents of similar ability. In some sports, that percentage can be as high as 80 to 90 percent mental,” said Keith Kaufman, PhD, a Washington, DC-area sport psychology practitioner and research associate at The Catholic University of America presenting at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. His six-session program, developed in collaboration with Carol Glass, PhD, also of The Catholic University of America, and clinical psychologist Timothy Pineau, PhD, is outlined in the book “Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement,” to be published by APA later this month.

    A number of psychological studies support the importance of mental preparation, according to Kaufman. One involved more than 200 Canadian athletes from the 1984 Olympics who were assessed for three major readiness factors: mental, physical and technical. Of the three, only mental readiness was significantly associated with how successful they were at the Olympics.

    “With popular belief and scientific evidence being in such harmony, one might expect that mental training would be a top priority within the athletic community. However, curiously, this is not the case,” said Kaufman. “We have met so many athletes and coaches who know that mental factors, such as concentrating, relaxing and letting go of thoughts and feelings, can aid performance, but have no idea how to actually do those things under the pressures of training and competition.”

    Kaufman outlined a multi-step program he and his co-authors developed based on the practice of mindfulness, by which coaches and athletes at all levels can increase their mental readiness.

    Mindfulness entails being aware of the present moment and accepting things as they are without judgment. When people are able simply to watch experiences come and go, rather than latch onto and overthink them, they are better able to intentionally shift their focus to their performance rather than distracting negative experiences such as anxiety, Kaufman said.

    “For example, an athlete could identify that ‘right now, I’m having the thought that I can’t finish this race,’ so rather than reflecting an objective truth, it’s seen as just a thought,” said Kaufman.

    The program itself consists of six group-based sessions that contain educational, discussion and experiential components, as well as recommendations for daily home practice. The training begins with sedentary mindfulness practice, where participants are instructed to focus on experiences like eating and breathing, but gradually more and more movement is incorporated, culminating in a sport-specific meditation in which athletes or coaches apply a mindful style of attention to their actual sport performance. In addition to formal exercises, the program emphasizes informal mindfulness practice, which involves engaging in daily activities with mindful intention, helping participants to integrate mindfulness into their workouts, practices and competitions, as well as everyday life.

    The training is easily adapted to accommodate any sport at any level, from amateur to professional, he said. It can also be adapted for use by a single performer or by those in other high-pressure domains such as the performing arts or business.

    Recent research cited by Kaufman points to the significant potential for this approach. Two studies involving 81 university athletes found that athletes who completed the program showed significant increases in various dimensions of mindfulness and flow, which is the mental construct often associated with being “in the zone.” They also rated their own performance higher and experienced less sport-related anxiety. At a follow-up months later, these gains were maintained and in one of the studies, involving two teams that had losing records the previous year, both had winning seasons following mindful sport performance enhancement.

    “We wrote this book so that sport psychologists, athletes, coaches, psychotherapists with clients who are athletes or performing artists, researchers, educators and anyone else interested in applications of mindfulness for their own personal fitness or performance can have access to a complete guide to mindful sport performance enhancement exercises, materials and theory,” he said. “No background in psychology, mindfulness or the sport sciences is required to benefit from the content.”


  9. Study suggests how a girl is raised can influence her adult sporting success

    July 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    The ability to produce peak performance plays a decisive role in the success of athletes in competitive sport. A desire to be the best is one of the most important traits in a top athlete, but where does this desire come from — are we born with it or is it a learned characteristic?

    Traditionally, research on female sporting success has focused on biological and genetic differences. A new study, published in the open-access journal, Frontiers in Psychology, instead looks at the motivation level of successful female footballers and whether their upbringing influences this desire to succeed.

    “We find that at higher competition levels, the more likely it is for female athletes to savour the more aggressive elements of a sporting contest,” says Danie Meyer-Parlapanis, who conducted this research as part of her PhD thesis at the University of Konstanz, Germany. “This is particularly the case when they have been raised in less traditional families and have greater engagement with more masculine interests and role models.”

    Meyer-Parlapanis and her co-authors asked ninety female football players, from the German premier and regional leagues, to fill in a questionnaire based on aggressive behaviour research in military troops. That research found that long-term combat produced a fascination and enthusiasm for direct confrontation, which can override self-control and inhibition. The desire to beat an opponent, whether that be in military combat or on the playing field is similar and can lead to a single-minded approach where victory becomes paramount.

    The answers to the questionnaires revealed that players from the premier league, deemed as the more successful athletes, exhibited greater fighting spirit and more pleasure in the game of football itself. When this result was compared to similar findings in the combative field, it suggested these players are less susceptible to distraction, fear and stress during the game.

    “But rather than focusing solely on the player’s appetite for success,” explains Meyer-Parlapanis, “we also examined how their upbringing and exposure to gender stereotypes influenced this feeling.”

    She continues, “How a child is raised, what toys and games are accessible, and what role models they see — both in and out of the home — all play direct roles in how they view themselves and experience the world around them. Non-traditional socialization can yield non-traditional outcomes. In this case, female athletes breaking with tradition to perform in a sport that, until 1970, was exclusively reserved for males. Additionally, moving further away from female stereotypes, many of these female athletes do more than simply play the game, they savour the battle on the pitch.”

    The authors of this study hope that their research will be used as a basis for examining how those with a minority status deal with and succeed in areas where they have not traditionally been expected to do well.

    Meyer-Parlapanis concludes, “In sport, there is a long road ahead for male and female equality in pay, status and media attention. Further research will serve to reduce stigma and raise more awareness to the challenges facing female athletes around the world.”


  10. Irregular sleeping patterns linked to poorer academic performance in college students

    June 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham and Women’s Hospital press release:

    Previous research has analyzed variations in sleep patterns including number of hours slept, quality of sleep, and sleep-wake times, and found an association with cognitive impairments, health and performance; however, few studies have considered or accurately quantified the effects of regular sleep patterns. In a new study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, researchers objectively measured sleep and circadian rhythms, and the association to academic performance in college students, finding that irregular patterns of sleep and wakefulness correlated with lower grade point average, delayed sleep/wake timing, and delayed release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. The results are published in Scientific Reports on June 12, 2017.

    Researchers studied 61 full-time undergraduates from Harvard College for 30 days using sleep diaries. They quantified sleep regularity using the sleep regularity index (SRI), a newly devised metric. Researchers examined the relationship between the SRI, sleep duration, distribution of sleep across the day, and academic performance during one semester.

    “Our results indicate that going to sleep and waking up at approximately the same time is as important as the number of hours one sleeps,” stated Andrew J. K. Phillips, PhD, biophysicist at the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and lead author on the paper. “Sleep regularity is a potentially important and modifiable factor independent from sleep duration,” Phillips said.

    Students with more regular sleep patterns had better school grades on average. Researchers found no significant difference in average sleep duration between most students with irregular sleep patterns and most regular sleepers.

    “We found that the body clock was shifted nearly three hours later in students with irregular schedules as compared to those who slept at more consistent times each night, stated Charles A. Czeisler, PhD, MD, Director of the Sleep Health Institute at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and senior author on the paper. “For the students whose sleep and wake times were inconsistent, classes and exams that were scheduled for 9 a.m. were therefore occurring at 6am according to their body clock, at a time when performance is impaired. Ironically, they didn’t save any time because in the end they slept just as much as those on a more regular schedule.”

    By measuring the timing of melatonin release at sleep onset, the researchers were able to assess the timing of circadian rhythms. On average, melatonin was released 2.6 hours later in students with the most irregular sleep patterns, compared to students with more regular sleep patterns.

    “Using a mathematical model of the circadian clock, we were able to demonstrate that the difference in circadian timing between students with the most irregular sleep patterns and students with regular sleep patterns was consistent with their different patterns of daily light exposure,” stated Phillips. “In particular, regular sleepers got significantly higher light levels during the daytime, and significantly lower light levels at night than irregular sleepers who slept more during daytime hours and less during nighttime hours.”

    Researchers note that the circadian clock takes time to adjust to schedule changes, and is highly sensitive to patterns of light exposure. Irregular sleepers, who frequently changed the pattern of when they slept and consequently their pattern of light-dark exposure, experienced misalignment between the circadian system and the sleep-wake cycle.

    Researchers conclude that light based interventions, including increased exposure to daytime light and less exposure to electronic light-emitting devices before bedtime, may be effective in improving sleep regularity.