Thursday, March 8, 2012

Researchers find not-surprising link between lack of sleep and "cyberloafing"

I guess it's not exactly earth-shattering news that not getting enough sleep makes it more difficult to stay focused at work which, in turn, leads to more aimless web-surfing.  But now there's empirical evidence to support your intuition. As reported by the Wall Street Journal:  

At least in the white-collar world, loafing now looks, from a few paces, indistinguishable from hard work. Naturally, this presents fresh problems for managers even as March Madness pools run ever more smoothly.

Beginning with the assumption that loafing represents a lack of a mental discipline, and that discipline wears down when one’s resources are taxed, researchers recently explored whether cyberloafing (their term) was connected to a lack of sleep — as they suspected it was.

In a first test, they used the shift to daylight-savings time as a proxy for lost sleep: Using Google search logs, they looked at the proportion of Google searches for “YouTube,” “videos,” “music,” and “ESPN” — classic loafer fare —on the Monday after the shift to daylight-savings time, in 200 U.S. cities; then they compared the figure to the corresponding one for the previous and subsequent Mondays (when sleep would presumably be undisrupted). They did this for the years 2004 to 2009.* And, indeed, it turned out that entertainment-related searches were 3.1% higher on the Mondays when people were probably sleep-deprived than on the previous Monday, and 6.4% higher than on the next Monday.**

That’s a rough-and-ready look at the problem, to be sure, so the researchers added a laboratory component. They asked 96 undergraduates, who had worn a sleep-monitoring device the night before, to sit at a computer and pay close attention to a 42-minute lecture by a professor (whom they were told was being considered for a job). The students were left alone for this task, which required considerable concentration and patience, but any web surfing they did was monitored.

As predicted, the less students had slept the night before, the more they were likely to wander off from their assigned task. Conversely, every minute of sleep meant .05 fewer minutes surfing. The connection with disturbed sleep was also strong: “An hour of disturbed sleep would on average result in cyberloafing during 20% of the assigned task.”

Source: “Lost Sleep and Cyberloafing: Evidence From the Laboratory and a Daylight Saving Time Quasi-Experiment,” David T. Wagner, Christopher M. Barnes, Vivien K.G. Lim, and D. Lance Ferris, Journal of Applied Psychology (forthcoming).

Hat tip to ye olde Chronicle of Higher Ed.


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