Tired? Work in groups
17 August 2011
Despite our best efforts we have all felt the negative effects of tiredness, whether you’re a policeman who’s been working 24-hour shifts to ensure an end to the recent rioting or you’re a new parent with a sleepless baby. The key to breaking through your drowsy state of mind is teamwork, according to ESRC-funded research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Commenting on his research, Dr Daniel Frings of London South Bank University said: "We already know that tiredness can have negative effects on an individual’s vigilance, reaction time and awareness, but this research shows that it can negatively affect problem-solving too."
The research project Can groups stave off fatigue? The effects of group monitoring upon fatigue induced cognitive impairment focused on a team of cadets from the Territorial Army who were on a non-stop two-day winter training exercise, only getting around five hours of sleep a night. They were tasked to solve a number of maths problems in as few steps as possible and were tested either at the beginning of the task when they were alert, or at the end when the sleepless nights and training had taken their toll.
The project found that, among the tired cadets, those who were working on their own weren’t able to solve the problems as quickly as their alert counterparts, and often slipped into 'inflexible thinking'. This meant they were often overlooking the best and most obvious solution, instead falling back on those they’d used before.
However, participants who were working in groups were able to pull together and rapidly spot the new solutions, and were just as effective at doing so as those who weren’t tired at all. Dr Frings suspects this was because they were more highly motivated and were able to compare solutions with other team members.
Dr Frings commented: "There are obvious dangers which can stem from a lack of creative thinking in unpredictable occupations such as the military or medicine. For example, in a busy hospital tiredness could lead to misdiagnosis if linking symptoms to diagnosis became 'routine'."
"However, whether you’re a doctor, soldier, hard-working office worker or stay-at-home parent, anyone who is experiencing the punishing effects of sleepless nights can learn from this research. If you need to make an important decision and you’re tired, it’s best to be part of a team.
"If you can’t consult with others, ask yourself: 'Is there a better solution I’m missing because I’m tired? Can I come back to this problem after some sleep?'"
Recent findings from the ESRC’s longitudinal Understanding Society survey suggests that 26 per cent of those who work in excess of 48 hours a week sleep less than six hours a night. Dr Fring’s research suggests ways in which we can work better when tired – an ability it would seem is increasingly in demand.
- Team work is the answer for tiredness, says LSBU academic (LSBU press release)
- The effects of group monitoring on fatigue-related Einstellung during mathematical problem solving (Abstract - APA PsycNET)
- The Effects of Group Monitoring on Fatigue-Related Einstellung During Mathematical Problem Solving (Full report - PDF, 169Kb)