Psychology’s Mareike Wieth Flies High with Media

Nearly five years later, her creativity/time-of-day study still attracts a flock of coverage

July 1, 2016

By Chuck Carlson

(Editor’s note: This is a “web extra” from page 7 of the Spring-Summer 2016 edition of Io Triumphe! magazine.)

Mareike Wieth will begin her 12th year as a member of Albion College’s Psychological Science faculty this fall. She received her B.A. from Kenyon College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Michigan State University.

The first time Mareike Wieth realized her field of interest resonated beyond her office walls was the day in 2012 she got a message she didn’t expect.

“When I got a voice mail from the BBC, it was like, ‘What?’ I think I hyperventilated,” she said.

After all, it wasn’t every day that the British Broadcasting Corporation called an associate professor of psychology at Albion College. But Wieth was working on something that not only intrigued that news organization, but has sparked the interest of media on this side of the Atlantic as well.

“You don’t become a liberal arts professor to become famous,” she said. “As a researcher, you don’t even expect other researchers to read your paper.”

But Wieth’s research about optimum creative times, which she has been studying since 2004, has found a niche, and when national publications have looked at this unusual topic, Wieth has often been the go-to source.

She began her research as a graduate student with the support of her advisor, Rose Zacks. She discovered that people who need to solve problems that require a high degree of creativity usually do a better job at the time of day when they’re least alert. For example, a so-called “early bird” who seems to function best in the morning can solve certain problems later in the evening (and vice versa for “night owls.”)

“My advisors at Michigan State thought it was goofy,” Wieth said with a laugh. “But Rose said, ‘Go ahead and do it.’”

Since then, Wieth has become identified in many circles with the research, publishing papers and intriguing not only the academic community but students and media as well.

Wieth, who has been at Albion since 2005, believes she knows the reason why her research has sparked such interest.

“People are interested in creativity,” she said. “They like to think of themselves as creative or want to be creative. I think people believe it gives them an edge. … They want to be different; they don’t want to be a number.”

And she has become the voice of the subject.

Just last month, a BBC Capital online story headlined “Can a morning routine make you better at your job?” talked about worker routines and structure, quoting professors from Curtin University (Perth, Australia) and Florida State University as well as the author of the book What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.

But, as a counterpoint, the article also quotes Wieth and her research finding, that people perform better on creative tasks during their non-optimal time of day.

Over the years, she has lent her thoughts to such magazines and outlets as Time, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Scientific American, Wired, Harvard Business Review, and She has also contributed on various National Public Radio shows and in Canada.

The German-born Wieth, who moved with her family to Ohio when she was 12, recounted a story of how, after her parents moved back to Germany, her dad was headed to work one day and was stopped in the office when someone put the last names together after reading an article in which Mareike was mentioned.

“That’s your daughter?” he asked in amazement.

Wieth, who says she receives several requests for comment about her work each month, has taken the notoriety in stride. After all, it’s the research and the discovery that matters to her, and she’ll do whatever she can to publicize it to those who are curious and skeptical.

“It’s still kind of crazy,” Wieth said. “But I’m OK with it. It’s something I’m proud of and it’s something that’s been nice.”

Take the Quiz

Morningness Eveningness Questionnaire (short version)

Read each question carefully. Select the most appropriate answer and note the corresponding value next to it.

1. If you were entirely free to plan your evening and had no commitments the next day, at what time would you choose to go to bed?

a) 8 p.m. – 9 p.m. (5)
b) 9 p.m. – 10:15 p.m. (4)
c) 10:15 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. (3)
d) 12:30 a.m. – 1:45 a.m. (2)
e) 1:45 a.m. – 3 a.m. (1)

2. You have to do two hours of physically hard work. If you were entirely free to plan your day, in which of the following periods would you choose to do the work?

a) 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. (4)
b) 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. (3)
c) 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. (2)
d) 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (1)

3. For some reason you have gone to bed several hours later than normal, but there is no need to get up at a particular time the next morning. Which of the following is most likely to occur?

a) Will wake up at the usual time and not fall asleep again (4)
b) Will wake up at the usual time and doze thereafter (3)
c) Will wake up at the usual time but will fall asleep again (2)
d) Will not wake up until later than usual (1)

4. You have a two-hour test to sit, which you know will be mentally exhausting. If you were entirely free to choose, in which of the following periods would you choose to sit the test?

a) 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. (4)
b) 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. (3)
c) 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. (2)
d) 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (1)

5. If you had no commitments the next day and were entirely free to plan your own day, what time would you get up?

a) 5 a.m. – 6:30 a.m. (5)
b) 6:30 a.m. – 7:45 a.m. (4)
c) 7:45 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. (3)
d) 9:45 a.m. – 11 a.m. (2)
e) 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. (1)

6. A friend has asked you to join him twice a week for a workout in the gym. The best time for him is between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Bearing nothing else in mind other than how you normally feel in the evening, how do you think you would perform?

a) Very well (1)
b) Reasonably well (2)
c) Poorly (3)
d) Very poorly (4)

7. One hears about “morning” and “evening” types of people. Which of these types do you consider yourself to be?

a) Definitely morning type (6)
b) More a morning than an evening type (4)
c) More an evening than a morning type (2)
d) Definitely an evening type (0)

Now add the scores together to get your total and compare your total score with the table below to get an idea of your chronotype:

Definitely morning type: 32–28
Moderately morning type: 27–23
Neither type: 22–16
Moderately evening type: 15–11
Definitely evening type: 10–6