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Excerpts from Introduction of Chapter: In the past few decades, human chronobiology research has documented rhythms in a variety of biological and physiological functions (e.g., body temperature, blood pressure, metabolic rate, hormonal and digestive secretions) reflecting circadian cycles of approximately 24 hours. Circadian rhythms exhibit pronounced effects on important aspects of everyday life, health, and medical treatment (e.g., Hrushesky, 1989, 1994; Smolensky & D'Alonzo, 1993), as well as on the ability to adapt to shift work (e.g., Monk, 1986; Moore-Ede & McIntosh, 1993). While extensive research addressing general circadian patterns exists, a far smaller literature concerns the extent to which there are individual differences in these patterns and, in turn, differences in performance at different times of day (e.g., Bodenhausen, 1990; Colquhoun, 1971; Folkard, Knauth, Monk, & Rutenfranz, 1976; Folkard, Weaver, & Wildgruber, 1983). This work shows that individual circadian arousal is indeed correlated with performance on a variety of tasks (e.g., efficiency in reacting to stimuli, performing simple arithmetic, engaging in cognitive activity) such that performance peaks at a certain level of circadian arousal, a peak which occurs more or less regularly at a specific point in the day. . . . Herein, we report findings that performance differences across the day are associated with age-related differences in circadian arousal, and that younger adults get better as the day progresses while older adults get worse. . . Since survey researchers pose questions to people across the age range, attention to circadian arousal patterns and to their impact on some but not all cognitive processes may help to improve the accuracy and adequacy of responses, particularly by older adults. To the extent that there are individual and group differences in circadian arousal patterns across time of day, errors in survey data may result when the size and direction of response effects are differentially influenced by when a questionnaire is administered and completed. . . Investigators who rely on questionnaires and surveys to tap memory processes should in particular be altered to how the variation in circadian arousal may produce systematically biased response data.
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