Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Time-of-Day Effects on Human Performance

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Time-of-Day Effects on Human Performance

Article excerpt

The course of study of time-of-day effects on human performance has not been an easy one to chart, with many findings that seem to be in opposition. This review examines the difference between group and individual differences with regard to time-of-day effects; time-of-day effects in individuals; morningness-eveningness as an individual characteristic; morningness-eveningness in adolescents; effect of time of day on cognition and academic performance; time-of-day effects on intelligence, testing, and academic achievement; the effect of matching individuals to their preferred time on academic achievement; and motivation as a primary confounding variable in time-ofday preference/academic performance studies. Other possible confounding variables and procedures in testing time-of-day effects are also briefly examined.

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The course of study of time-of-day effects on human performance has not been an easy one to chart, with many findings that seem to be in opposition. Some researchers have found that performance increases across the day; some have found that it decreases across the day; some have found that it increases to a midpoint, after which it decreases. Through all the studies, factors such as motivation, psychological characteristics, and physical state of the individual serve only to confuse the picture.

In most of these studies, researchers were intent on studying differences that might be common to groups. The term group difference refers to characteristics that are attributable to group membership, while individual differences are attributes particular to no defined group. Therefore, while individuals may share characteristics that also are shared by a group, the characteristics are not present because of membership in that group. If, for example, researchers discover that males consistently perform a certain task better in the morning than at other times of day, that performance characteristic is most likely a group difference, even though some females may also perform the task better in the morning. For females who perform better in the morning, the performance characteristic is an individual difference. The origin of group and individual differences, as might be expected, is a very complex field of study that will not be addressed here. The reader is invited to consult the work of Eysenck (1994) and Eysenck and Eysenck (1985) for possible biological foundations of individual differences that are responsible for sensitivities of individuals to their environments. Thus, individual differences are most likely an interplay of both biology and environment.

Little research into individual differences in time-of-day effects on performance has been conducted, most likely because, as mentioned earlier, researchers are more interested in findings that may be generalized to large groups of people. However, in practical, applied terms, the study of individual differences becomes key. When a physician elects to prescribe medication to a patient, for instance, knowing how that particular patient functions is essential. Educational services need to be prescribed in much the same way, with the individual assessed for such characteristics as motivation, personality characteristics, and skill levels. An individual difference that is proving to be significant in many current studies in a variety of fields is that of time-of-day preference. Although the term preference implies choice on the part of the individual, studies are beginning to validate the stand that several factors, many physiological and beyond the control of the individual, are combining to make time of day a defining element in performance.

The implications for education that emanate from such studies are enormous, widespread, and address such questions as these: If time of day is a significant factor in the performance of students and teachers, should schools attempt to match preferred time of day to tasks of both students and teachers? …

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