Confusion as to what day it is can be a common occurrence in daily life, particularly during the middle of a working week where the days often seem to blur into one. Now, researchers have attempted to demonstrate why such confusion occurs.
The study, published in PLOS ONE, finds that the manner in which the traditional 7-day cycle molds our lives is responsible.
“The 7-day weekly cycle is repeated for all of us from birth, and we believe this results in each day of the week acquiring its own character,” states lead researcher Dr. David Ellis, from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln in the UK.
Previous studies have noted that different days of the week can have different levels of impact on behavior. For example, medical appointments on Mondays are more likely to be missed than appointments on Fridays, with the rate of missed appointments declining throughout the week.
“This pattern suggests that, rather than being qualitatively different, Monday and Friday may be two extremes along a continuum of change,” the authors write.
The aim of the new study was to shed light on any possible links between the weekly 7-day cycle and basic cognition, and the researchers set out to achieve this by characterizing mental representations of the weekdays.
They asked participants which words they most strongly associated with specific days of the week. Mondays and Fridays had the most mental representations attached to them, with Mondays linked to negative words such as “boring” and “tired” and Fridays associated with positive words like “freedom” and “party.”
Fewer representations were attached to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, indicating that they carried less meaning and were less distinct, making them more easily confused.
When tested to see how quickly they could state what the correct day was, the participants could correctly declare it was a Monday or a Friday twice as fast as they could on a Wednesday.
The researchers noted that when people got the current day confused with another, it usually occurred during the middle of the week.
“Indeed, more than a third of participants reported that the current day felt like a different day, and most of those feelings were on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, reflecting the midweek dip in associations attached to different days,” says Dr. Ellis.
During a week with a public holiday at the beginning, the number of these mistakes rose to more than half, with many participants reporting that they felt as though they were a day behind in the cycle.
Dr. Ellis states that this finding implies time cycles can shape cognition even when they are socially constructed – the apparent weekday is not determined solely by where it falls in the 7-day cycle but where it occurs in relation to the weekend.
Cultural factors may well explain these findings, suggests co-author Dr. Rob Jenkins, from the Department of Psychology at the University of York in the UK:
“One reason behind midweek days evoking fewer associations than other days could be down to how infrequently they occur in natural language, thus providing fewer opportunities for associations to form – for example, we have an abundance of pop songs which make use of Mondays and Fridays, while the midweek days are rarely used.”
He adds that if evidence can be found that aspects of behavior such as risk or tolerance also vary systematically over the week, the implications for both individual behavior and psychological measurement could be profound.
“Previous studies have shown that natural temporal cycles (days, months, years) have psychological consequences,” the authors conclude. “The present findings demonstrate that socially constructed temporal cycles can also shape our thinking.”
In contrast to socially constructed temporal cycles, a team of researchers recently made a discovery relating to biological temporal cycles. Last week, Medical News Today reported on a study that describes the mechanism that controls the sleep-wake cycle in animals.