Mean on Monday?

DANIEL McCABE | Do you start the week feeling like a grouch and end it acting like a pussycat? If so, you're not alone, says psychology professor Debbie Moskowitz, whose research points to a whole new reason to thank God it's Friday.

It turns out that our behavioural patterns seem to follow a regular weekly schedule -- we begin the week behaving in a more aggressive and quarrelsome fashion than we do as Saturday draws closer. With the weekend in sight, folks become more easy-going.

Moskowitz and her collaborator, University of Michigan researcher (and McGill graduate) Stéphane Côté, recently released the results of their work in the American Psychological Society publication Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Moskowitz and Côté decided to do the study after they mulled over the nature of the behavioural research that is typically carried out by psychologists.

"When people participate in psychological studies examining their behaviour, the studies seem to focus on how people behave in general. Our intuition was that there is a lot of variability in how people act -- they don't always behave the same way. The studies that have been done haven't really captured this variability over time," says Moskowitz.

So Moskowitz and her team decided to launch their own study to see whether behavioural patterns changed over the course of a day or a week. They recruited subjects, ranging in age from 20 to 60, all of whom worked outside the home for at least 30 hours a week. The subjects were instructed to monitor their social interactions over a three-week period and were given standardized forms to fill out. "Basically we told people to tell us what they did and how they felt about what they did during their interactions with other people." For the purposes of the study, a social interaction had to last more than five minutes to merit being chronicled. "People averaged about 140 interactions a week," says Moskowitz.

After analyzing and categorizing the feelings and behaviours that were mapped out by the 200 study participants, Moskowitz and Côté spotted a consistent trend -- we've got fire in our bellies early in the week and by Thursday, we're much more mild-mannered.

"It's probably adaptive behaviour for maintaining social networks," speculates Moskowitz. "You get together with your friends and family at the end of the week and over the weekend." Someone who's always snarly with his loved ones will ultimately wind up lonely and isolated.

Moskowitz thinks the behavioural patterns she and Côté spotted also fit in with the rhythm of the workweek.

"When you're at work, you have to get things done and sometimes you have to be pushy. As the week progresses, you realize you also have to give in sometimes. People begin the week all fired up and energetic, but as Friday draws closer, they realize that they'll have to compromise to get their projects completed."

She jokingly suggests that people try to schedule their meetings for Thursdays when their colleagues are most likely to be agreeable.

Moskowitz says she was a little surprised to find that there wasn't really any pronounced daily pattern in how we behave -- with the exception of highly extroverted individuals who thrive on socializing. "These people are somewhat constrained by the workday. When the day is done and they're free from the constraints of their jobs, they've got much more freedom to get together with people in social situations -- and they do. There's a big change."

Research subjects were also asked to keep track of how they felt about the behaviours they exhibited. "We didn't find any gender differences. The results for men and women were very similar. Some people might think that women wouldn't feel as badly as men would about exhibiting submissive behaviour, for instance. But that's not true. Women hate being submissive as much as men do."

Moskowitz says she never has difficulty recruiting people to serve as subjects for her research which examines all sorts of different personality traits. "The people who take part discover things about themselves they didn't realize. They start noting behaviours they didn't know they did."