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Why morning people seek more variety

Imagine two consumers, John and Mary. During a typical morning, John sluggishly drags himself out of bed after snoozing the alarm clock several times. He then brushes his teeth, bleary eyed, and slowly makes his way to the kitchen. His wife, Mary, has already poured him a cup of coffee. She’s bright-eyed, dressed, and ready for the day, having gotten up before the first alarm even went off. Mary is a morning-type. John isn’t. Being a morning-type certainly makes Mary more alert in the morning than John, but might it make her differ in other ways, too?

It does.

While most people prefer less variety in the morning than they do later in day, morning-types prefer variety all day. For instance, if Mary went to the grocery store in the morning, she might buy several different flavors of yogurt, be interested in the variety pack of chips, and decide to get a different type of pasta for dinner that night. John, on the other hand, might get several of the same flavors of yogurt, go for just one style of chips, and pick up the same type of pasta he had for dinner last week. However, if John went later in the day, he would be more likely to get the same variety as Mary would in the morning. While John and Mary’s overall shopping list might be the same, what they choose to fulfill that list might be very different at different times of the day.

This seems to occur because morning-types are physiologically different in the morning than other types of people are. Prior work has shown that the pattern of one’s circadian rhythms, which are daily fluctuations of things like body temperature and hormone secretion, determines whether a person is a morning-type or not. Circadian rhythms synchronize with the sun to help to make sure that certain bodily functions occur at the correct time of day, such as waking in the morning and sleeping in the evening. The waking process happens quicker, earlier, and with greater intensity for morning-types. As a result, morning-types have relatively higher body temperatures, skin conductance, and heart rates—or are otherwise more physiologically aroused—earlier in the morning than other people are.

It appears one’s natural level of physiological arousal or internal stimulation at any given time makes them more or less interested in variety.

It appears one’s natural level of physiological arousal or internal stimulation at any given time makes them more or less interested in variety. Variety makes things more exciting, more interesting, and more stimulating. But in the morning, when most people’s physiological arousal levels are at their lowest, the stimulation from the variety is too much to handle so people avoid it until later in the day when their physiological arousal levels have increased. However, morning-types, with their higher levels of physiological arousal in the morning, don’t feel over-stimulated by variety and so don’t exhibit the same decrease in preference in the morning.

For businesses, this means that not everyone has stable variety preferences throughout the day. While morning-types might prefer variety all day, the majority of the population is not made up of morning-types. Advertisements that emphasize the variety of selection or new products might do better in the afternoon than they would the morning. Radio stations might gain more listeners if a wider selection of music is played in the evening and more similar songs are played in the morning.

For consumers, people who are not morning-types should keep their dynamic preferences for variety in mind. If you do your grocery shopping in the morning, you might not feel like mixing up what you buy for dinners and lunches. However, future you would probably appreciate more variety than what seems appealing when you do your shopping in the morning. Similarly, for vacation planning, it might be more enjoyable to schedule more similar activities in the mornings and save the newer and more diverse activities for later in the day.

If variety is the spice of life, then morning-types have spicier mornings than everyone else.

Featured image: “Alarm clock” by Lukas Blazek. Freely available via Unsplash. 



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