Chronobiology in divergent thinking: how designers are affected by time of day

DS 122: Proceedings of the Design Society: 24th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED23)

Year: 2023
Editor: Kevin Otto, Boris Eisenbart, Claudia Eckert, Benoit Eynard, Dieter Krause, Josef Oehmen, Nad
Author: Colombo, Samuele (1); Gero, John S. (2); Cantamessa, Marco (1)
Series: ICED
Institution: 1: Department of Management and Production Engineering, Politecnico di Torino, Turin (Italy); 2: Department of Computer Science and School of Architecture, University of North Carolina, Charlotte (USA)
Section: Design Methods
Page(s): 0887-0896
DOI number:


Chronobiology is the science that studies the role of time in biology. The study of time in human bodies revealed the presence of internal rhythms related to the time of day. Considering divergent thinking as one of the essential cognitive activities of conceptual design, this paper presents the results of investigating the effect of time of day on designers’ brain activity while performing divergent thinking tasks. An experiment was run with a revised Alternative Uses Task, measuring brain activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG) device. Students with different educational backgrounds were recruited for this experiment, including engineering and industrial design students, to determine if the time of day affected them differently. The brain waves and related power results show significant differences with respect to the time of day and educational background. The differences are particularly evident considering the interaction of these factors. Further studies are required to understand the relationship between the differences detected and the designers’ behavioural performance and to identify which time of day is most effective for idea-generation activities for designers.

Keywords: Conceptual design, Creativity, Design cognition, Chronobiology, Electroencephalogram

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