CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Your 'Best' Hours Might Not Be Your Most Productive

iStock
iStock

Most people lean one way or another on the clock. Some of us get our second—or first—wind once the sun goes down, while others spring out of bed in the morning, ready to greet the day. Our 9-to-5 society has created a distinct advantage for morning people, but the nocturnally inclined are every bit as productive, especially when they can set their own schedules. However, authors of the new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology say the reverse is also true: Both morning and night people can be equally unproductive—especially if they set their minds to it.

It’s called self-sabotage or self-handicapping: finding excuses for messing up rather than doing what you need to do. (Need an example? Think about the time you stayed out way too late before a job interview, or every embarrassing story that starts, “So I’d had a bit too much to drink …”) Like many personality traits, the tendency to self-sabotage lies on a spectrum, with some people falling prey to excuses more than others. 

Curious about the intersection between self-sabotage and time of day, the Indiana University researchers designed an experiment to test how being a morning vs. night person affected self-sabotaging behavior at different times of the day. They brought in 237 undergraduate students under the guise of giving them a new type of intelligence test. Two weeks before the test, the participants completed questionnaires that evaluated their circadian type and their tendency to self-sabotage. This information was hidden from the researchers, who then randomly assigned each student a testing slot at either 8 a.m. or 8 p.m. 

All of the participants filled out surveys that measured their stress levels before the test, and then half of the students were offered an opportunity for self-sabotage: a note on their tests mentioned that stress could affect their test results. The others were explicitly told that stress wouldn’t make a difference.

Given what we know about circadian rhythms and performance, the researchers reasonably expected to find that we’re more likely to shoot ourselves in the proverbial foot during our weakest hours (nights for morning birds and before noon for night owls). But their study results suggested the opposite. 

Self-sabotaging students who were told that stress would hurt their scores reported higher levels of stress—but only if they took the test during their “good” hours. In other words, excuse-prone morning people were more likely to stress out in the morning if they thought the stress would hurt them. All the students in off-peak testing slots reported the same amount of stress. 

The study creators say these results suggest that sabotaging ourselves is hard work, and that it’s best accomplished and most likely during our sharpest, most energetic hours. “What this study tells us is that self-handicapping requires thought and planning,” co-author Ed Hirt said in a statement. “People who are feeling uncertain about themselves and start to fear that they might fail are more likely to identify potential excuses and self-handicap when they're at their peak than when they're not.” 

What a waste of energy. Rather than worrying about the time of day, says lead author Julie Eyink, “working to avoid self-handicapping—through actions such as healthful practices, seeking help or counseling—is the best strategy.” 

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
iStock
iStock

Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
iStock
iStock

The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios