Do Larks Repress Owls?

Richard Chappell suggests morning larks treat night owls unfairly:

Scheduling maintenance work on campus housing for 7:45am somehow doesn’t strike the university as grossly inconsiderate, the way that scheduling it for 11pm surely would. … It should be common knowledge that there’s a fair bit of variation in the sleep schedules of graduate students. …. Perhaps [early-risers] think that any grad student who’s still asleep at 8am is just “sleeping in”, the way that they themselves might do on a lazy weekend. … Perhaps the inconsistent treatment is thought to be justified by early-riser moralizing: really (the thought goes), people ought to wake early. Those on later sleep schedules must just be lazy.

Intrigued, I dug:

A higher degree of eveningness in more impulsive subjects. more

Morningness was stable before age 35 and increased afterwards. more

College freshmen who kept night-owl hours had lower GPAs. more

Evening-types are more likely to have higher intelligence scores. more

Late risers tire less quickly. … Those who rise later tend to be both cleverer and richer.  more

Night workers more likely to be evening type and the unemployed less likely to be moderately morning type … Evening types were 2.5 times more likely to report that their general health was only poor or fair. more

Owls had the largest mean income and were more likely to have access to a car. There was also no evidence that larks were superior to those with other sleeping patterns with regard to their cognitive performance or their state of health. more

Morningness correlated positive with agreeableness and conscientiousness. … Neuroticism was related to eveningness only in females and in adolescents (10–17 years). In adults (18–47) only conscientiousness correlated with morningness. Positive correlations existed between agreeableness and conscientiousness and sleep length. more

Early risers prefer to gather knowledge from concrete information. They reach conclusions through logic and analysis. Night owls are more imaginative and open to unconventional ideas, preferring the unknown and favoring intuitive leaps on their way to reaching conclusions. … Morning people are more likely to be self-controlled and exhibit “upstanding” conduct; they respect authority, are more formal, and take greater pains to make a good impression. … Evening people, by contrast, are “independent” and “nonconforming,” and more reluctant to listen to authority. more HT

Morningness was … negatively related to impulsivity, extravagance, and dis-orderliness and positively related to persistence. … Evening types were rated significantly less dependable … Older age correlates with Morningness. … Evening types tended to commit less recognition errors, … were more intelligent, more likely to do well on measures of memory, and in processing. … Evening types presented more flexible sleep habits and slept significantly less …  are less emotionally stable … [and] are prone to addiction. more

So, larks are older, more conformist, more dependable, and so more likely to set official rules.  Such rules seem to favor lark-preferred hours of work, school, etc., and to give larks higher school grades even though owls are smarter and eventually richer.  Seems some sort of “conspiracy” theory has decent support, though of course  conscious collusion isn’t needed here – self-serving biases and signaling distortions seem a sufficient explanation.

So why don’t owls complain more about this repression?   Too non-conformist to coordinate a movement?  Too busy partying late to show up to meetings?

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  • Doug S.

    “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man stupid and blind in the eyes.”

  • Doug S.

    So why don’t owls complain more about this repression?

    I complain! Unfortunately, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBIxScJ5rlY&quot;?my complaining is completely ineffective, but I do complain!

  • Doug S.
  • JamieNYC

    IMHO, the social bias in favor of early risers is a vestige from agricultural period, when getting up early really did matter in economic terms (you couldn’t do much work after dark in pre-industrial age, and during the peak field-work season, at moderate latitudes, the dawn breaks at 5 am or even earlier).

    As a data point, I give you a less-developed European country where I grew up: the usual work hours (in the cities: offices, factories etc.) used to be from 7 am to 3 pm when I was growing up. That irritated me immensely, and I believe it is clearly a product of agricultural mindset, as the country industrialized only recently.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Jamie, a great many other habits have changed since most folks were farmers; why is this so much slower to change?

  • http://ahappinessexperiment.wordpress.com/ Bock

    This one hits a nerve.

    Some industries, like software, seem to be more enlightened on this. They understand that some of their best programmers like to sleep till noon and thus allow for flexible hours.

    Industries which are less enlightened suffer from selection bias: the owls will have trouble surviving; thus few owls around to coordinate a complaint.

    If, like me, you happen to be a rare owl in an industry with extreme lark bias, complaining only makes you seem unreasonable, uncommitted and inflexible. The company would never consider the notion that they are the ones who might be unreasonable, uncommitted and inflexible regarding some of their employees.

    My solution has been to show up late often, get reprimanded constantly, but somehow show my value in other ways that has prevented me from getting fired. This is far from a satisfactory solution.

    A big problem is that most people don’t buy into the idea of natural larks or owls. Most people think if you just force yourself to go to bed early for a few nights in a row your sleep schedule will change. So the problem first and foremost is creating awareness that people really are natural larks or owls, and it is almost impossible to change it (other than growing older in some cases).

  • Me

    Scheduling maintenance work on campus housing for 7:45am somehow doesn’t strike the university as grossly inconsiderate, the way that scheduling it for 11pm surely would

    Sure, because late evenings are normally used not only for sleep, but for recreational activities as well. Very inconsiderate if you ask me, but not connected to the sleep schedule.

    • Jess Riedel

      I’m pretty sure that the rationale for not preforming loud maintenance at 11pm is the possibility that people might be sleeping, not that they might be enjoying recreational activities. Same goes for general noise ordinances.

      Think especially of weekends: people are more likely to be enjoying recreational activities late Friday and Saturday night, and the noise prohibitions are usually relaxed.

      • Me

        I did not mean the noise as disturbance, actually. More like nuisance of reschedulling your normal life. In the morning you are at home anyway, lark or owl, win|win. Late at night you either want to sleep or have to break the normal social schedule, and waste the better half of a normal day, lose|lose.

  • Jeff Yager

    Well, there is a reason for construction to be scheduled early in the morning. I am a night owl, but as a desperate college kid, I did commercial roofing one summer. At first I hated being at work at 5:30 am, but when July came, I appreciated it. You don’t want to be on a roof for too long in the afternoon. We did most of our heavy duty work in the mornings, and saved the skilled, intricate work for the hot afternoons. You need to do most construction work during daylight hours, so 11 pm just wouldn’t be efficient.

    Needless to say, I came back to school the following semester with grad school ambitions. Long live the owl!

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Most early hours aren’t in hot July outdoors.

      • Jeff Yager

        True, but I do think that kind of situation makes it the construction industry standard. Just like many financial institutions structure their hours around the opening and closing bells of the markets, even if they don’t actually deal with them directly.

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  • exapted

    Sure, because late evenings are normally used not only for sleep, but for recreational activities as well. Very inconsiderate if you ask me, but not connected to the sleep schedule.

    Right. One thing I didn’t see mentioned in the article: Recreational activities being scheduled according to Lark hours. You’re supposed to be free at 6 for recreational activities on weekdays, unless you’ve worked more than 8 hours on a Lark schedule (if not, it was your fault for not starting at a Lark time).

    IMHO, the social bias in favor of early risers is a vestige from agricultural period, when getting up early really did matter in economic terms (you couldn’t do much work after dark in pre-industrial age, and during the peak field-work season, at moderate latitudes, the dawn breaks at 5 am or even earlier).

    An example consistent with that theory: In Hong Kong (totally urban with little to no agricultural history), work starts at 9 or 9:30 am and lunch is at 1pm. Right across the border in mainland China, work starts at 8 or 8:30, and lunch is at 12:00.

    a great many other habits have changed since most folks were farmers; why is this so much slower to change?

    This was not addressed to me, but I’ll take a stab at it. Starting work early is a way of signaling dependability that most people can’t easily emulate. It is reinforced by a pre-existing Lark schedule and memes in favor of the Lark schedule, remnants of agricultural society. The ones who rise early without any special effort assume that they deserve recognition/status in their communities/workforces for that, and thus the right to determine society’s schedule. There is a set of memes that legitimize their status/rights – “The early bird gets the worm,” “sleeping in is for the lazy,” etc. You can see mentioned in many ancient Chinese literatures that the way to success is to rise early, and I guess rising early is symbolic of dependability and success in many cultures (originally related to agriculture). Armed with such memes, and a pre-existing Lark work schedule, Larks set the schedules and so make it difficult for Owls to actually be dependable (when working on a Lark schedule), which reinforces the memes of rising early for success. Most people want to be seen as early risers and believe in the memes that legitimize Lark schedules, and thus even most Owls try to emulate Larks. If an Owl becomes successful, he/she finds it most advantageous to not try to change society’s schedule. Once you’ve become successful, you can counter-signal by flaunting your Owl schedule.

    Here is a website supporting Owls: http://www.b-society.org/
    “B-Science”: http://www.b-society.org/node/15

  • exapted

    Once you’ve become successful, you can counter-signal by flaunting your Owl schedule.

    I’m still not sure if that would fit the definition of counter-signaling, but anyway I think some very successful Owls may take pride in their Owl schedules because it proves their proficiency. But some successful people still want to be seen as Larks, possibly because they want to instill the Lark schedule in the people who work under them.

  • David

    Funny, me reading this post at 7am and yet to sleep.

  • Anonymous Cowherd

    I wonder how many owl characteristics flow from the fact that owls feel they ought to wake up early and are consistently unable to do so, so whenever they try to improve their lives they work on their sleep schedule first, fail, and stop trying.

    • http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/ Katja Grace

      Is true for me. Not sure why owls would feel they ought to more strongly than to conform to any other minor social norm though.

      One possibility is that it happens to be a very convenient thing for others to show their disrespect for. Most features of your lifestyle aren’t seen all the time, and if someone sees them and disapproves it is awkward for them to comment. But what time you get up is reflected in what time your acquaintences first see you, and it gives them some light chit chat to make, such as ‘er good morning ha ha’. Being lightly mocked for the same thing often adds up.

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    I’ve read that teenagers tend to be extreme owls– many of them can’t get to sleep before midnight or one AM. This is made into more of a problem because many high schools schedule the start of the day very early so that the little kids aren’t waiting for school buses in the dark.

    An article about the logistics and effects of starting high school later— the students are more likely to be awake and in class, and are less likely to be depressed.

    • gwern

      That school schedules are so perverse in a way obvious to any teenager – the people who need to get up *last* have to get up *first* – is one of the best proofs, I feel, that quality education is only a secondary goal of public education.

      • Doug S.

        In my school, there were two offered justifications for the obscene 7:40 starting time:

        1) Students have to travel for extracurricular activities, such as sports, scheduled in the early afternoon. If the school starts later, they have to miss class to participate in them.

        2) Students prefer to leave school earlier so they can get to their jobs.

        Both prompt a big WTF from me.

      • gwern

        I’d also note that it’s not as if this were a contentious theory and there aren’t decades of studies on teenager sleep cycles & melatonin secretion & scores; I ran across yet another one today on _Science News_.

  • http://sarasera.com Saraj

    In a work / office environment this leads to presenteeism, my office requires us to be at work by 8 and stay until 5, but rarely am I asked what I actually got done during those hours. One solution I hope catches on more is the concept of a Results Only Work Environment. Where you aren’t judged on hours, you’re judged on results. You can work wherever, whenever, however, as long as you get done what needs to be gotten done. You can read up on this at http://goRowe.com … I’m not affiliated with that site at all, just wish I worked in a place that used it.

  • http://akinokure.blogspot.com agnostic

    “the people who need to get up *last* have to get up *first* – is one of the best proofs, I feel, that quality education is only a secondary goal of public education.”

    That applies to private ed, too, and at all levels. Class schedules in private higher ed are only slightly more favorable to owls.

    It’s not a public / private distinction, but an externality problem. Those harmed by early schedules — most students — have little means to fight back because they pay nothing out of pocket. Their ed is paid for by third parties (govt, parents, private foundations, etc.).

    If students themselves paid for their ed, even if they took it out on a loan but could still move it around as they pleased, then classes would start *much* later as they voted with their dollars.

    Also, those who decide on class times — professors and TAs — are not the ones who collect the students’ tuition, so even if students paid out of pocket, they wouldn’t discipline the profs directly. Ideally, students would pay mostly out of pocket, and the profs would collect the tuition directly, with some cut of that then relayed to the administration or whoever.

    Right now the main actors in all of ed are nearly completely insulated from market discipline, even at private schools.

    • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

      I’ve been talking about “conventional education” rather than “public education”. A lot of private schools are modeled on public schools.

  • Boris

    agnostic, you overestimate how much controll professors and TAs have over class times. Having both taught undergraduate college classes (I had my choice of problem session times, as long as it was after dinner, but no choice in the set of available class times, though some choice in the times I wanted to teach) and taking quite a number of graduate and undergraduate classes (a number taught by professors who did not want to be awake at that particular time), the bureaucracy attendant on a campus does a lot of the class scheduling. That’s why things like classroom availability and classes that are corequisites not being scheduled at the same time and the like tend to work out.

    In upper-level graduate classes professors may indeed have a bit more in the way of choice in terms of when the class will be offered, of course. For one thing, the students’ schedules are more flexible. But even for early graduate classes this is not the case. The two professors I’ve had who were obviously not morning people but were teaching 9am classes were both teaching graduate-level first-year classes.

  • Aaron

    It seems to me that it would be helpful to examine the roots of the lark/owl dichotomy.

    If, ignoring other considerations, you could plan your sleep cycle, it seems pretty logical for you to generally be awake during the daylight hours and do all your sleeping during the night.

    Larks are the ones better able to accomplish this objective, which raises the question of why owls are unable to.

    My hunch is because night owls tend to stay up later than they intend, and sleep in later as a result.

    Reasons why they would do this? Perhaps they are less organized, less motivated to get to sleep on time (or get up in the morning), more productive in the pre-sleep period. All these reasons pertain in part to me and would seem to explain some of what’s going on.

    • http://robertwiblin.wordpress.com Robert Wiblin

      ‘it seems pretty logical for you to generally be awake during the daylight hours and do all your sleeping during the night.”

      The night is quiet and other people don’t bug me, so I would actually rather be awake then.

      • Jennel

        Robertwib the exact reason you like being awake at night is the very reason I love the morning. have you ever woken up around 4 am? most people are still asleep, it’s peaceful and beautiful and I get to enjoy it in reasonable silence. Larks and Owls are not that different, we just like to divide each other and “prove” who’s better.

    • gwern

      Your questions seem to assume that going to sleep is just a matter of deciding to, and having ‘willpower’. But sleep is part of a complex cycle; why would an owl go to bed at 10 PM if it just means he tosses and turns for 3 hours and feels like dirt upon waking?

      The right question is to ask, why do owls not use melatonin supplements to physiological modify their sleep cycle to be more lark-like? (They already are modifying their sleep cycle by using caffeine, after all.)

      I think it’s a combination of ignorance and misguided fear of pharmaceuticals. Certainly the numbers check out:
      http://lesswrong.com/lw/1lt/case_study_melatonin/

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    A little evo-bio: Before cheap artificial lighting, people had to deal with an average of 12 hours of darkness in each 24. I’ve read about hunter-gatherers– they’d sleep for about 8 hours/night, and spend the remaining four in sex, conversation, and a contemplative state.

    In any case, it’s to the advantage of the tribe if everyone isn’t asleep at the same time.

  • NotJohn

    Most of the anecdotal descriptions given here don’t fit well with my anecdotal experience. I’m an early starter – at my desk by 7:30 most days. My colleagues arrive over the next 2 hours. They don’t see me arrive, but they do see me leave and so think I’m not putting in the hours the way they do, yet I know I do more than most. Also it would be considered unreasonable to call a meeting for 8-9, but not for 6-7. I think it’s just to do with the attitude of the managers – they set the norm, whether owl or lark.

  • John 4

    We need some sort of set societal work schedule, as there are families with kids who need to go to school, and people who need to do things outside of work etc. Not every business can be open 24/7. Since many, but not all, jobs require daylight, the workday is set during daylight hours. It makes no sense for a parent working at a software company so sleep until noon: who takes the kids to school, makes them breakfast, etc., and even if your spouse does, they’re in bed before you get home so you never get to see them.

    There are reasons for things being the way they are…

  • Yvain

    As you mentioned, most larks, and even many owls, assume owls are just lazy. The owls don’t complain because complaining would be very publically sending the signal that they’re lazy.

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    Did anybody notice the apparent contradication here that on the one hand college freshman owls have lower GPAs while supposedly in the later work world it is the owls who are “cleverer and richer”?

    • Dave

      Barkley, you must be a lark if you can’t figure out the “apparent contradication” (sic) on your own. Students usually have to take a lot of pre-noon classes to make it through four years of college. Naturally, owls will do worse at these classes given that they either end up sleeping through them or being groggy. Imagine how well a randomly selected group of students would do in a class scheduled for 4am versus 10am. An 8am or 9am class is the same thing for the owl as a 4am class for a ‘normal’ person.

      • gwern

        Ask any current college student: many dread 8 AM classes. If you’re a lark, try looking in on some 8 AM classes at 8:30 or 9 or so, and see how many of the students struggle to pay attention or stay awake. You don’t see very many faces flat on the desk in afternoon classes…

  • James F

    Jumping in here pretty late, but it seems a bit obvious to me – work schedules were established during the industrial revolution. And the data about larks and owls presented makes it seem kinda clear to me that larks would be preferable industrial employees – more likely to follow rules, less likely to question the process or superiors, intelligence not particularly essential.

    Now that more workers are knowledge workers and fewer are physical laborers, it makes much less sense. But status quo bias keeps work schedules the way they are.

  • Lovey

    As a person who is both a morning and night person everyday, I have nothing to say about this that hasn’t already been said.
    But I did laugh. You poor guys. xD

  • weiss

    When I was a senior in high school I had enough credit to take a free credit, most people took their last period off, but I was smart and took my 1st period off. It was the best thing that ever happened to me! I ate a good breakfast then rode my bike to to school without any traffic and got to my second period class ready to start the day with everyone else still tired, grumbling, and hungry. It was awesome!

  • http://lenoxus.pbworks.com lenoxus

    All right, since weiss added to this, I don’t feel too guilty putting in my two cents, which are as follows: In my subcultural corner of the world, while larkness is certainly seen as somewhat admirable, it’s not considered remotely wrong to be an owl, and the “standard refrain” is much more anti-lark than anti-owl. Larks are above and beyond the “normal”, baseline owls, in all the good and bad ways that entails. (“Goddamn morning people! So perfect all the time!”)

    I’m thinking of the many Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where Calvin’s father awakes at five AM and says “are you going to waste the whole day?” (A parody at the lark’s expense). Perhaps it is entirely because of Bill Watterson that I retain a sense that my culture sees larks the way it sees politicians — targets to make fun of yet furtively envy.

    • jennel

      thank you! Larks don’t usually go around at night spitting their anger at having to be awake at Owls enjoying the best part of their day. And with so many opportunities to work any time you want no one can really say that Owls are persecuted. how ridiculous is that? get a job that starts later for goodness sake.

  • Stephen

    All the general patterns of morning people (agreeable, conscientious, dependable, conformist) are the kinds of things that bosses want for their avg workforce. I wonder if society structured itself to purposefully (though not fully consciously) create jobs in the morning, knowing that this would weed out those who aren’t the type of people who would be good workers. If you can’t show up in the morning, then you’re probably a night owl and if you’re a night owl, you’re probably non-conformist, undependable, creative, and I don’t want you working in my company.

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