The vigilance decrement in executive function is attenuated when individual chronotypes perform at their optimal time of day

PLoS One. 2014 Feb 19;9(2):e88820. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088820. eCollection 2014.


Time of day modulates our cognitive functions, especially those related to executive control, such as the ability to inhibit inappropriate responses. However, the impact of individual differences in time of day preferences (i.e. morning vs. evening chronotype) had not been considered by most studies. It was also unclear whether the vigilance decrement (impaired performance with time on task) depends on both time of day and chronotype. In this study, morning-type and evening-type participants performed a task measuring vigilance and response inhibition (the Sustained Attention to Response Task, SART) in morning and evening sessions. The results showed that the vigilance decrement in inhibitory performance was accentuated at non-optimal as compared to optimal times of day. In the morning-type group, inhibition performance decreased linearly with time on task only in the evening session, whereas in the morning session it remained more accurate and stable over time. In contrast, inhibition performance in the evening-type group showed a linear vigilance decrement in the morning session, whereas in the evening session the vigilance decrement was attenuated, following a quadratic trend. Our findings imply that the negative effects of time on task in executive control can be prevented by scheduling cognitive tasks at the optimal time of day according to specific circadian profiles of individuals. Therefore, time of day and chronotype influences should be considered in research and clinical studies as well as real-word situations demanding executive control for response inhibition.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Chronobiology Phenomena*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This work was supported by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (Ramón y Cajal programme: RYC-2007-00296 and PLAN NACIONAL de I+D+i: PSI2010-15399) and Junta de Andalucía (SEJ-3054). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.