“Morning People” actually work faster than “Night People” at night, but make more mistakes. That's the takeaway from a recent study out of Oxford University.
Twenty-six volunteers (13 male, 13 female) with an average age of 25 participated in the study. The test subjects were required to stay awake for 18 hours, from 8:00 AM to 2:00 AM, and adhere to their normal routine. At the beginning and end of their time spent awake, the participants completed an Attention Network Test (ANT) and a Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire to help assess their “chronotype,” i.e., whether they were morning or night people.
The scientists did not find any appreciable difference between either group working in the morning, but after the sun went down all bets were off. The early risers completed tests quicker than the night birds, due, the researchers say, to the different approaches the two groups took towards managing the task.
Night people, it turns out, take a more serious approach to the tasks appointed to “their” time of day.
“To deal with the most difficult test — resolving a conflict of attention — it was necessary not only to concentrate on the main visual stimulus, but at the same time to ignore accompanying stimulus that distract from the core task,” explained co-author Andriy Myachykov. Completion of this task requires increased concentration.
“An interesting fact is that although night owls spent more time finishing than early birds, their accuracy in completing the task was higher,” Myachykov added.
In general, the night watch were slower but more efficient compared to the morning crew, according to the second ANT taken at 2:00 AM after 18 hours of being awake.
“On the one hand, it’s known that night owls are more efficient in the late hours, but how this influences the speed and accuracy with which attention-related tasks are completed remains unclear. Our study demonstrated how night owls working late at night 'sacrifice' speed for accuracy,” explained Myachykov.
The study could have a deep and wide-ranging effect upon education and human resources management. Besides just impacting the night shift at your local bakery, pilots, drivers air traffic controllers and all who must deal with large sets of data with optimal reaction time could be in for a scheduling sea change. During emergencies, the new principles described in this study could play a vital role.
The study was published in the journal Experimental Brain Research.