Current Psychology

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 24–33 | Cite as

Personality and Reaction Time after Sleep Deprivation

  • Noelle E. Carlozzi
  • Michael David Horner
  • Samet Kose
  • Kaori Yamanaka
  • Alexander Mishory
  • Qiwen Mu
  • Ziad Nahas
  • Sarah A. Wells
  • Mark S. George
Article

Abstract

The relationship between reaction time and both state and trait personality variables was investigated in 37 participants after 30 h of sleep deprivation. Regression analyses suggested that endorsement of greater Novelty Seeking, anger/hostility, and depression/dejection, and less confusion, was associated with greater reaction time declines on one Multi-Attribute Task Battery index after sleep deprivation. Further, greater Novelty Seeking and depression/dejection, and less vigor/activity, was associated with greater reaction time declines after sleep deprivation on another Multi-Attribute Task Battery index. Additional correlational analyses indicated that better reaction times were associated with greater Novelty Seeking and lower anger/hostility prior to sleep deprivation, and less confusion/bewilderment following sleep deprivation. Findings suggest that both state and trait personality variables are associated with reaction time performance following sleep deprivation.

Keywords

Cognition Personality Reaction time Sleep deprivation State personality variables Trait personality variables Experiment 

Sleep deprivation in humans is associated with a variety of deficits in cognitive performance (Harrison and Horne 2000; Pilcher and Huffcutt 1996) and is a mounting societal problem that affects performance regardless of career and social status. To date, only a limited number of studies have examined the impact of personality on cognitive performance in sleep deprivation. Therefore, the role that personality plays in mediating the relationship between sleep deprivation and cognitive performance is not yet understood.

Much of the research that has examined the influence of personality on sleep deprivation has been based on Eysenck’s (1967) theory of personality, which postulates that extraverts seek stimulation while introverts are more inhibited, and that neurotic individuals are excitable whereas those who are stable are not. Under this framework, most research has demonstrated that extraverts perform more poorly than introverts after sleep deprivation on tasks of vigilance (Harkins and Geen 1975; Jha 1988; Smith and Maben 1993), motor tracking (Corcoran 1965), time estimation (Taylor and McFatter 2003), implicit learning (serial reaction task; Corcoran 1965), driving (Verwey and Zaidel 2000), match to sample (Taylor and McFatter 2003), spatial processing (Taylor and McFatter 1999), attention (digit span; Taylor and McFatter 1999), and logical reasoning (Smith and Maben 1993), and on immediate and delayed recall (Pilcher and Huffcutt 1996; Taylor and McFatter 1999; Taylor and McFatter 2003). Further, poor performance is more pronounced in neurotics than stables (Taylor and McFatter 1999).

The purpose of this study was to expand upon previous research by examining different personality constructs. More specifically, this study examined Cloninger’s (1987) tridimensional personality variables of Novelty Seeking, Harm Avoidance, and Reward Dependence. Novelty Seeking measures explorability, excitability, impulsiveness, extravagance, and disorderliness; Harm Avoidance measures anticipatory worry, fear of uncertainty, shyness with strangers, and fatigability; and Reward Dependence measures sentimentality, persistence, attachment and dependence (Cloninger et al. 1991). In addition to examining Cloninger’s personality traits, a number of state personality variables were also examined using the Profile of Mood States (McNair et al. 1992) including tension/anxiety, depression/dejection, anger/hostility, vigor/activity, fatigue/inertia, and confusion/bewilderment. Analyses were conducted to determine relationships between personality variables and cognitive performance after sleep deprivation. We hypothesized that poorer performance following sleep deprivation would be associated with anger/hostility, fatigue/inertia, confusion bewilderment (state variables), and novelty seeking (trait variable)

Method

Participants

Sixty-one healthy men were recruited from the community to participate in this study. Data were collected as part of a larger study examining the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation on cognition during sleep deprivation (Mu et al. 2005a, b). Due to missing data, 24 participants were excluded from analyses, resulting in a final sample of 37 participants. No participants had a history of medical, neurological, psychiatric, or sleep disorders, as established with interview, routine blood tests and urinalysis, and a physical examination of the skin, head, ears, nose, mouth, throat, neck, and the musculoskeletal, neurologic, respiratory, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal systems. Participants who abused alcohol or drugs were excluded. Participants also abstained from smoking and caffeine and alcohol intake throughout the study. Caffeine-free meals were provided. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 45 years (mean = 28.0, SD = 6.4). The majority of participants were Caucasian (86.5%) and the remaining 13.5% were African American. Participants’ education ranged from 10 to 25 years (mean = 16.3 years, SD = 2.4).

Measures

Personality Measures

The Temperament and Character Inventory (Cloninger 1987) is a 240-item true/false self-report questionnaire designed to measure tridimensional personality dimensions including Novelty Seeking, Harm Avoidance, and Reward Dependence (Cloninger et al. 1993).

The Profile of Mood States (McNair et al. 1992; McNair et al. 1981) is a 65-item self-report questionnaire requiring participants to identify how they have been feeling over the past week on a series of 5-point Likert scales. Personality states addressed include tension/anxiety, depression/dejection, anger/hostility, vigor/activity, fatigue/inertia, and confusion/bewilderment (McNair et al. 1992).

Measures of Reaction Time

All participants completed the Multi-Attribute Task Battery, a set of tasks used in laboratory studies of operator performance and workload (Comstock and Arnegard 1992). While the battery consists of a series of actions analogous to activities that aircraft crewmembers perform in flight, it also allows for a high degree of experimenter control, includes performance data on each subtask, and can be used with non-pilot test subjects (Comstock and Arnegard 1992). The four subtasks included in the battery are a tracking task, a system-monitoring task, a communication task, and a resource management task. Each task is located on a separate window on the computer screen. The Multi-Attribute Task Battery is sensitive to sleep-deprivation effects, especially the tracking task and the reaction time measures imbedded within the monitoring subtasks (Caldwell and Ramspott 1998). For the present analysis, only Multi-Attribute Task Battery results in the monitoring subtask were examined due to previous analyses that suggest that this subtask was the most sensitive to sleep deprivation (Mu et al. 2005a, b).

The monitoring subtask is comprised of four gauges with moving pointers and a pair of system status light displays, which are located above the four gauges. In non-event conditions, a left system warning light is normally “on” and indicated by a green color. In the presence of an event, the participant is required to detect the absence of this light and to correct it when the green light goes out. The right system warning light is usually “off” and in the presence of an event it shifts from black to red, demanding a corrective response. In the absence of an event, the moving pointers in all four gauges are oscillated around the center tick mark by no more then one mark from the center of the gauge in either direction. Participants were instructed to inspect the gauges for events and respond as soon as they detected them. Reaction time to each event was recorded for all responses except error responses (time-out or missed event or a false response). More specifically, we examined the change after 30 h of sleep deprivation in mean response time for both lights and dials separately and for combined mean response time for lights and dials. While other cognitive tasks were administered in this study, we chose to examine only responses on the Multi-Attribute Task Battery due to problems with practice effects for other cognitive tasks.

Procedure

All data were collected in accordance with the American Psychological Association ethical standards (American Psychological Association 1992) and informed consent was established prior to study enrollment. Participants completed the Profile of Mood States and the Temperament and Character Inventory during their initial screening process prior to beginning the sleep deprivation portion of the study (please note that although the Profile of Mood States was administered numerous times during this study, only baseline responses were analyzed in this study). The participants habitually maintained sleep schedules of 7–9 h per night, between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. During the study, participants followed their regular sleep schedules except for the sleep deprivation nights. Sleep deprivation was performed from Wednesday beginning at 3:00 a.m. to Thursday 9:00 a.m. in a separate ward where the participants were constantly monitored and checked every 10 min. Sleep-deprivation duration thus included 1 night of partial sleep deprivation followed by a full day and night of sleep deprivation, for a total of 30 h of sleep deprivation. While undergoing sleep deprivation, participants were allowed to engage in nonstrenuous activities, such as watching videos, but were not to interact with persons outside the ward. Although the Multi-Attribute Task Battery was administered numerous times throughout the study, analyses in this study only examined responses at baseline and again after 30 h without sleep. Please note that participants also received transcranial magnetic stimulation at each of the aforementioned three visits, but reaction time testing always occurred prior to transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Results

Pearson correlations were conducted to examine the relationship between age and reaction time on the three Multi-Attribute Task Battery variables. There were no significant relationships between age and any of the reaction time variables (all p’s > .05). Reaction time did not systematically decline with sleep deprivation for all participants; there was no difference in mean response time for lights from baseline to performance after 30 h of sleep deprivation or for mean response time for lights and dials, and there was significant improvement in mean response time for dials (see Table 1). This was consistent with previous research on this sample which identified two groups of participants within this sample: sleep deprivation-resilient and sleep deprivation-vulnerable (Mu et al. 2005a).
Table 1

Mean reaction time to lights, dials, and combined lights and dials (in sec) at baseline and after30 h of sleep deprivation (N = 37)

Multi-Attribute Task Battery Variable

Baseline

30 h deprivation

  

M

SD

M

SD

t (df)

p

Lights

2.14

.73

2.29

1.12

−1.20 (36)

.24

Dials

6.80

2.45

5.92

2.10

3.21 (36)

.003

Lights & Dials

4.22

1.17

4.02

1.32

1.33 (36)

.19

Regression analyses were conducted to examine the contribution of personality (state and trait) in the prediction of reaction time change after sleep deprivation. All 37 participants were included in these analyses. Three regression equations included change in reaction time as the criterion variable (Multi-Attribute Task Battery: difference between baseline and performance after 30 h of sleep deprivation for mean response time to light signal, mean response time for dials, mean response time for lights and dials) and personality variables as the predictor variables (Profile of Mood States: tension/anxiety, depression/dejection, anger/hostility, vigor/activity, fatigue/inertia, and confusion/bewilderment; Temperament and Character Inventory: Harm Avoidance, Novelty Seeking and Reward Dependence).

The overall model examining mean response time for lights was significant, F (9, 27) = 3.28, p = .008; endorsement of greater Novelty Seeking, anger/hostility, and depression/dejection and less confusion were associated with greater declines or shorter reaction time with sleep deprivation (See Table 2). The overall model examining mean response time for lights and dials was also significant, F (9, 27) = 2.37, p = .04; greater Novelty Seeking and depression/dejection and less vigor/activity were associated with greater declines or shorter reaction time with sleep deprivation (see Table 2). Finally, personality variables (both state and trait) for the regression analyses examining mean response time for dials did not meet criteria for inclusion in the model, F (9, 27) = 1.60, p = .17.
Table 2

Summary of hierarchical regression analysis for personality variables in predicting changes in reaction time after sleep deprivation (N = 37)

Personality variable

Multi-attribute task battery mean response time for lights

Multi-attribute task battery mean response time for lights and dials

ß

SE ß

β

ß

SE ß

β

Trait variables

 Novelty seeking

.04

.02

.37 *

.06

.02

.49 *

 Harm avoidance

−.05

.03

−.24

−.07

.04

−.27

 Reward dependence

.02

.02

.12

.04

.03

.24

State variables

 anger/hostility

.15

.07

.38 *

−.06

.09

−.12

 confusion/bewilderment

−.26

.09

−.59*

−.04

.12

−.08

 tension/anxiety

−.03

.06

−.10

−.10

.07

−.27

 fatigue/inertia

−.06

.03

−.29

−.05

.05

−.19

 depression/dejection

.19

.09

.44 *

.24

.12

.46 *

 vigor/activity

−.02

.03

−.12

−.09

.04

−.40 *

R² = .44 for multi-attribute task battery mean response time for Lights; R² = .44 for multi-attribute task battery mean response time for lights and dials; * p < .05

To aid in the interpretation of the aforementioned significant relationships, Pearson correlations were examined between the Multi-Attribute Task Battery and personality variables (see Table 3). Faster mean response time for lights was associated with greater Novelty Seeking at baseline, and less confusion/bewilderment after 30 h of sleep deprivation. There was no relationship with depression/dejection at either baseline or after 30 h of sleep deprivation. Further, faster mean response time for lights and dials combined was associated with greater Novelty Seeking at baseline, and there was no relationship with depression/dejection and vigor/activity at either baseline or after 30 h of sleep deprivation.
Table 3

Pearson correlations and corresponding p levels between personality variables and cognitive performance (N = 37)

 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

1. Mean response time for lights (baseline)

.74

.52

.63

.76

.75

.07

−.17

.22

−.04

.11

.29

−.02

.15

.26

 

.0001

.001

.0001

.0001

.0001

.69

.31

.20

.82

.53

.08

.90

.39

.11

2. Mean response time for lights (after 30 h sleep deprivation)

 

.38

.64

.54

.84

.15

−.38

.03

.006

.03

.13

−.11

.23

.42

  

.02

.0001

.001

.0001

.37

.02

.87

.97

.84

.45

.53

.17

.009

3. Mean response time for dials (baseline)

  

.73

.88

.68

−.05

.14

.12

.13

.001

.03

−.03

.23

.21

   

.0001

.0001

.0001

.77

.42

.49

.43

1.00

.87

.87

.16

.21

4. Mean response time for dials (after 30 h sleep deprivation)

   

.71

.95

.02

−.24

.07

.09

−.007

.17

.06

.26

.28

    

.0001

.0001

.92

.16

.68

.61

.97

.31

.74

.13

.10

5. Combined mean response time (lights & dials) (baseline)

    

.23

−.05

−.02

.27

−.006

.02

.12

−.15

.25

.29

     

.18

.79

.89

.11

.97

.91

.48

.39

.13

.08

6. Combined mean response time (lights & dials) (after 30 h sleep deprivation)

     

.06

−.32

.08

.07

.0001

.18

−.01

.26

.35

      

.75

.05

.66

.68

1.0

.30

.95

.12

.04

7. Harm Avoidance

      

−.22

.34

−.14

.29

−.09

.05

.02

−.05

       

.20

.04

.40

.08

.60

.77

.93

.79

8. Novelty Seeking

       

.10

.19

−.06

−.14

.20

.11

−.17

        

.55

.26

.72

.42

.24

.53

.30

9. Reward Dependence

        

−.19

.08

−.05

.15

.09

−.17

         

.25

.63

.79

.39

.61

.32

10. Tension/Anxiety

         

.51

.41

−.005

.39

.52

          

.001

.01

.98

.02

.001

11. Depression/Dejection

          

.49

.09

.41

.53

           

.002

.62

.01

.001

12. Anger/Hostility

           

−.19

.43

.56

            

.25

.008

.0001

13. Vigor/Activity

            

−.17

−.30

             

.33

.10

14. Fatigue/Inertia

             

.48

              

.003

15. Confusion/Bewilderment

              

Discussion

This was an exploratory study of the relationship between personality variables and reaction time after sleep deprivation. In general, reaction time did not become slower with sleep deprivation. Although findings are counterintuitive, previous examination of this sample identified two groups of participants: sleep deprivation-vulnerable and sleep deprivation-resilient (Mu et al. 2005a). More specifically, Mu and colleagues (2005a) examined individual brain activation patterns in this sample by grouping participants into sleep-deprivation-vulnerable and sleep-deprivation-resilient on the basis of changes in performance following sleep depravation relative to performance following normal sleep. They then found different patterns of functional circuitry activation as a basis of their sleep-deprivation vulnerability, providing support for this differentiation.

In the present study, both state and trait personality variables were related to change in mean response time after sleep deprivation. Of the three personality traits on the Temperament and Character Inventory, only Novelty Seeking was associated with cognitive performance after sleep deprivation. More specifically, individuals high on Novelty Seeking performed better initially but showed greater declines after 30 h of sleep deprivation. This finding is partially consistent with previous research demonstrating that extraverts perform more poorly than introverts with sleep deprivation (Taylor and McFatter 2003); even though extraversion and Novelty Seeking are not identical constructs, extraverts are high on Novelty Seeking, but low on Harm Avoidance (Cloninger et al. 1991).

When state personality variables were examined, greater anger/hostility and depression/dejection, and less confusion/bewilderment and vigor/activity were associated with greater declines in cognitive performance after sleep deprivation. These findings are partially consistent with previous literature suggesting that individuals who are less anxious/neurotic exhibit better cognitive performance (Taylor and McFatter 1999). More specifically, although neuroticism is conceptualized as a personality trait, it may be that individuals with less anger/hostility, depression/dejection and confusion/bewilderment are less “neurotic” and exhibit better cognitive performance. It remains unclear why less confusion/bewilderment and vigor/activity are associated with greater declines in reaction time after sleep deprivation. One possible explanation is that the individuals that were low on these state variables were also high on other trait variables (i.e., Novelty Seeking) that differentially affected performance.

Although findings of this study suggest a mediating role for personality variables in predicting reaction time after sleep deprivation, it is important to acknowledge several limitations. The use of an exclusively male sample limits the generalizability of the present findings; results might not be generalizable to females. Participants in this study were generally between the ages of 20 and 45 and had at least some college education; therefore, results might also not be generalizable to other age groups or education levels. Further, this study examined only reaction time, and did not examine other cognitive domains. Finally, the sample size was relatively small, and therefore replication is needed with larger samples.

Previous research has examined only the relationship of broader personality dimensions (i.e., introversion versus extraversion; Eysenck 1967) with cognitive performance after sleep deprivation, making this the first such study to examine a tridimensional model of personality traits (Cloninger 1987), and the first to examine both state and trait personality variables. The present findings suggest that both state and trait personality variables are associated with cognitive performance following sleep deprivation. Future research could examine the more specific roles that these different state and trait personality variables have on additional dimensions of cognitive performance including memory, learning and executive function.

Notes

Acknowledgements

This study was funded by a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Drs. Mark S. George and Daryl E. Bohning). The Brain Stimulation Laboratory is also supported in part by the Stanley Foundation, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, the Borderline Personality Disorders Foundation, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke grant RO1-AG40956.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noelle E. Carlozzi
    • 1
    • 6
  • Michael David Horner
    • 2
    • 3
  • Samet Kose
    • 4
    • 5
    • 7
  • Kaori Yamanaka
    • 8
  • Alexander Mishory
    • 4
    • 5
  • Qiwen Mu
    • 4
    • 5
  • Ziad Nahas
    • 4
    • 5
  • Sarah A. Wells
    • 4
    • 5
  • Mark S. George
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Outcomes & Assessment LaboratoryKessler Foundation Research CenterWest OrangeUSA
  2. 2.Ralph H. Johnson Department of Veterans Affairs Medical CenterCharlestonUSA
  3. 3.Medical University of South CarolinaCharlestonUSA
  4. 4.Brain Stimulation LaboratoryCharlestonUSA
  5. 5.Center for Advanced Imaging ResearchCharlestonUSA
  6. 6.University of Medicine and Dentistry of New JerseyNewarkUSA
  7. 7.Department of PsychiatryVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  8. 8.Department of NeuropsychiatryShowa University School of MedicineTokyoJapan

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