Other studies show similar results. Consider the task of finding the common link among three cue words (SHIP OUTER CRAWL). If the distraction presented alongside those cue words is not misleading (SHIP-ocean OUT-inner CRAWL-baby), but instead is helpful (e.g., SHIP-rocket OUTER-atmosphere CRAWL-attic), participants tested at off-peak times benefit from that distraction and solve more problems. Those tested at peak times do not solve more problems with helpful distraction, presumably because they filter out all distraction, even when it might be beneficial.
Thus, being at your best may be over-rated, at least for people seeking innovative ideas or creative solutions. To be sure, if your task requires strong focus and careful concentration - like balancing spreadsheets or reading a textbook - you are better off scheduling that task for your peak time of day. However, if you need to open your mind to alternative approaches and consider diverse options, it may be wise to do so when your filter is not so functional. You just may be able to see what you’ve been missing.
In case you are reading this article at your peak time and are struggling with your “aha moment,” coins were never dated BC because no one knew when (or if) Christ was coming.
Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.