Time of Day Affects Problem Solving Abilities

People differ in their circadian rhythms, which determine times of greatest mental alertness, reflected in body temperature differences.

James A Horne

James A Horne

Morningness” describes people who awaken easily and are most alert early in the morning, whereas “eveningness” refers to “night owls” who awaken later and feel most alert late in the day, according to Loughborough University’s James A. Horne and colleague O. Östberg, who developed a self-report questionnaire to distinguish these these temporal preferences.

Mareike Wieth

Mareike Wieth

Creative problem solving is more effective at “non-optimal” times of day for both “morning people” and “night people,” according to Albion College’s Mareike B. Wieth and Rose T. Zacks of Michigan State University.

Rose Zacks

Rose Zacks

They studied volunteers who solved insight problems and analytic problems at their optimal or non-optimal time of day and found consistently better performance on insight problem-solving during non-optimal times, but no consistent effect for analytic problem solving.

During non-optimal times, people may be more distractible, less focused and more able to consider diverse information, alternatives, and interpretations.
These conditions can enable innovative thinking and creativity.

William Hrushesky

William Hrushesky

William Hrushesky, formerly of University of South Carolina, argued that “timing is everything” in medical treatment, and Wieth and Zacks’ findings suggest suggests that working at “off-peak” times is effective for tasks that require creative thinking rather than analytic rigor.

-*How do you sequence your work tasks to enhance performance during “non-optimal” and “peak” times of day?

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1 thought on “Time of Day Affects Problem Solving Abilities

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Paul Castle writes:
    Thanks for sharing these insights. I was surprised about the impact on creative thinking.

    Kathryn Welds responds:
    This research suggests that people can innovate at times they feel most and least alert.
    As artist Chuck Close said: “Inspiration is for amateurs—The rest of us just dhow up and get to work.”


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