Despite the growing body of evidence from different academic disciplines, Pink said people tend to make decisions, such as when to start or stop a project, “in a very sloppy way,” based on intuition, guesswork.
“We basically make them, in most cases, based on default,” he said. “That's the wrong way to do it, because we can make them based on evidence.”
While other parts of time are arbitrary--who decided how long a second would last?--what’s real is it takes one day for the earth to revolve around the sun, said Pink. And within those 24-hour segments, there are times when people are at their peak, times when they are in a trough, and times when they are recovering.
The biggest takeaway from his research, Pink said, is that brain power doesn’t remain static. “This is a very big point,” he said. “I wish someone had told me this earlier in my life.”
He spoke about studies that showed people awaiting judgment before a court were more likely to get a favorable outcome if their appearance was in the morning than if in the afternoon, or one that found anesthesia errors during surgery are four times more likely at 3 p.m. than at 9 a.m., or that antibiotics are prescribed at much higher rates in the afternoon.
“There are going to be time-of-day effects on these kinds of issues,” said Pink. “And if we're not aware of them, then we're going to end up with some degree of, just in the criminal justice, not even some degree of injustice, massive degrees of injustice.”
Seidman said this is because people have a propensity toward bias. “We are trying to become more conscious about bias,” he said. “You might not be able to eradicate bias, but consciousness of bias allows us to be better by being aware.”
Our considerations are based more on convenience than what is the best time to do something, such as whether to hold a meeting at 9 or 3. “The only thing we care about there is essentially availability,” said Pink. “Is the Adam Smith conference room open? Are Jose and Maria available? You see huge differences in performance based on time of day in so many, so many domains.”
One interesting note, Pink said, is the importance of taking breaks. Research on the judges and whether they were more likely to offer parole found the likelihood rose significantly for defendants who appeared right after breaks, and then declined until the next break, when it went up again.
The other wild card is whether someone is a “morning person” or a “night owl” who has better focus and performance after dark, said Pink.
These performance peaks also pertain to when people are more likely to act with a higher awareness of morality, as research in which people are given an opportunity to cheat are found to cheat more in the afternoon than during the morning. Unless you were a night owl, in which case your moral compass was more finely attuned in the evening.
“The concept really is vigilance,” said Pink. “When you're vigilant, you are not only intellectually vigilant but I guess, arguably, you're morally vigilant.”
So, how can ethics and compliance use this research on timing to increase the effectiveness of training and education efforts? Because learning requires a degree of vigilance, the majority of people are more likely to be open and aware and vigilant earlier in the day, said Pink.
Research shows therapy sessions in the morning are more effective, while research in Denmark found students who took national standardized tests in the morning did much better than those who took it in the afternoon.
“My hypothesis would be that morning is probably better than later in the day for most people. But I would test that hypothesis,” said Pink. “If you have an office where you have a lot of people who are night owls, then I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't have ethics training for night owls at 8 in the morning. They're going to be miserable.”
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