There Really is a Wrong Way to Eat a Reeses TM
By Brian Frackelton(May 2000)


Every morning millions of Americans wake up and follow their daily morning ritual. Each individual prepares to leave for work or school in a unique way in which they are accustomed. No rule or law mandates the regularity of behavior, yet everyone organizes his or her life in a predictable fashion. From breakfast to eating a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup to the route home from work, people follow the same routine as a consequence of personal optimization and biological composition. Science has long marveled over the regularity of life processes. Each individual has their own right and wrong ways of doing things based upon how he or she typically behaves. It is this rhythmic nature of human behavior that creates the potential for predictability of individual actions or dispositions.

Chronobiology, the study of such rhythmic behavior, is an interdisciplinary field within biology. Biological rhythms have been studied for more than two hundred and fifty years. Historically, the field was founded in the 18th century when French astronomer Jean Jacques deMairan noticed the regularity of the leaves on trees. Despite the absence of the sun's light, the leaves opened during the day and closed at night. His research suggested the existence of some type of a biological clock. Although the field first broke ground over two centuries ago, extensive research didn't begin until the 1920's. Even then, much of the efforts went into definitively proving our intuitions were correct; life indeed has a rhythmic nature (Brown).

The existence of a biological clock was not established until the 1950's. The confirmation was long anticipated by researchers because "ヂll organisms seem to have some variation on the clock theme, from bacteria to complex plants, fungi, and animals" (Lewis 1). More recently, scientists have isolated a cluster of nerve cells in the brain which are thought to control biological timekeeping. The suprachiasmatic nucleus has been experimentally found capable of keeping track of time for a day or more once removed from the brain. Science has finally located the concrete origin of the elusive biological clock (Caldwell).

Although a biological timekeeping device has been discovered, researchers have long marveled over why life exhibits patterns. The most prominent explanation relies on the existence of such a biological clock in conjuncture with external environmental cues. These external stimuli, coupled with life's rhythms, can regularly affect both behavior and mood without conscious awareness of the pattern exhibition. Chronobiology can attest for the biological clock while psychology can account for the environmental factors which are products of the predictability we subconsciously sow in our lives.

The most documented and understood biological beat is the circadian rhythm. Charles Darwin himself suspected the existence of a twenty-four hour biological clock over three hundred years ago as he "ツlearly emphasized the inherent nature of diurnal periodicity" (Brown 20). Studies have determined that the circadian clock has a natural twenty-five hour cycle in the absence of light. The environmental cue of sunlight is regularly required to trim this cycle down to twenty-four hours. At least from a biological standpoint, there really aren't enough hours in the day.

The best illustrations of the circadian rhythm revolve around sleeping patterns. People who regularly get up at the same time every morning often find it difficult to sleep in on days off. This is a consequence of their circadian clock. During the workweek, the body becomes accustomed to waking up at a regular time. Although the weekend presents an opportunity to sleep in, to your circadian clock it is just another day. For this reason many people will find themselves waking up around the same time they usually get up despite the absence of an alarm. Due to the genuine, and constantly abbreviated, twenty-five hour circadian cycle, your body will tend to wake up slightly later than your normally do. This is why most people are often tired when their alarm goes off, yet wake up automatically a half-hour later or so on the weekends. The human body was designed to operate on a twenty-five hour cycle.

One publicly known consequence of the circadian rhythm is jet lag. This phenomenon is caused by the disruption of the circadian clock with the world around it. Although sunlight cues will eventually correct the biological clock, the afflicted individual often experiences light-headedness, fatigue, or moodiness in the meantime. The ailment is nothing more than a consequence of the time zone jumping the human body is forced to adjust to (Caldwell).

Within the one-day circadian rhythm, researches have found shorter, ultradian rhythms. While sleeping, people exhibit 90-minute cycles of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep (Hunter, "Ultradian"). Another less known ultradian rhythm is the nasal cycle. The nasal cycle is characterized by the alternating ability to breathe through each nostril. It has been found that one nostril is usually easier to breathe through than the other is, and they alternate every two to three hours. Studies have suggested that the nasal cycle has implications on the performance of verbal and spatial tasks. Although numerous shorter ultradian cycles exist, so do longer ones (Richards).

Longer biological cycles, known as infradian rhythms, have equal potential. In the words of Mark Caldwell, "ッiological rhythms can stretch across months as well as days and weeks" (2). Now that science has validated the premise that life biologically keeps time, it is not hard to accept the existence of longer cycles. The somewhat extreme seventeen year reproductive cycle of the cicada illustrates the potential. In the same way smaller cycles exist within the circadian rhythm, the circadian cycle itself exists within longer biological cycles (Hunter, "Infradian").

Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, chronobiology is a relatively new science. Although extensive research and findings have been made in regards to circadian and ultradian rhythms, little conclusive evidence has been acquired on longer infradian rhythms. This stumbling block is an inevitable repercussion of the study of complex biological temperaments. Long term studies simply take longer. For this reason, chronobiologists have logically focused their efforts on the more discernible, shorter cycles. Overall patterns take time to expose themselves. In dealing with the study of human beings, it is difficult to find subjects willing to such long-term extensive research. The prime solution to this insurmountable task is autorhythmometry. AR requires subjects to personally assess their own variables and isn't without its shortcomings as Frederick Brown of Penn State University points out: "フhose less than totally committed to this rigorous data-collection procedure find ample opportunity and justification for fudging or fabricating data for missed recording times" (25).

The alternative approach to AR involves studying societal statistics such as homicides or hospital visits. Unfortunately these are well open to interpretation and, although may offer insight, are not scientific enough to merit conclusive results. Furthermore, this generalization omits the individualistic nature of predictability. This procedural adversary has slowed the development of conclusive evidence in this aspect of chronobiology (Brown).

One example of an infradian rhythm would be the cycle that surrounds the seven days of the week. Since many societal patterns operate specific to the days of the week, it would be logical to assume that some environmentally cued patterns exist based upon it. Dr. John Palmer, a professor of physiology at the University of Massachusetts, conducted a study which concluded that people often feel most romantic on Sundays. The result could be accredited to the environmental cue of an often decreased workload (Randolph). In addition to the intuitive, some scientific data suggests that there may be biological significance of a corresponding seven-day cycle. This inference arises primarily from "フhe near seven day multiple frequency for the average timespans of incubation or gestation from conception" (Brown 30). In addition, the approximate seven day lunar quadrature has caused speculation that perhaps this is the result of a lunar derived rhythm. The combined biological and societal significance of the seven day cycle hints at the gravity of its potentially influential nature.

For centuries human beings have thought that the moon has a distinct effect on individual moods and behaviors. In fact, the word lunatic is derived from the Latin luna meaning quite literally "moonstruck." Although most scientific studies have been unable to prove any direct link, both health care workers as well as law enforcement officials attest that both crimes and hospital visits are abundant during certain phases of the moon. Author of The Lunar Effect and psychiatrist Arnold Lieber "パroposed a theory of biological tides [suggesting] that the moon exerted a pull on the water within the human body and therefore altered behavior" (Randolph 1). Although the moon's gravitation effect has profound significance on the earth's tides, the biological connection between behavior and the moon is scientifically unsettled.

Unlike potential lunar rhythms, the reproductive cycle is an innately biological occurrence. Since it is through this cycle that all life stems, it would be an appropriate cycle for the rhythmic nature of life to surround. In human beings, the generalized condition of premenstrual syndrome is one example of its rhythmic potential. Even more significant are the unique regularities that individual women often experience at different points of their reproductive cycle (One Woman). Unfortunately, because these cycles span weeks, many of the most rhythmic events go unnoticed unless a woman specifically records them: "The uncontrolled cognitive, social and personality factors will add nonconstant variance to self measures of subtle normal psychological rhythmicities and becloud them" (Brown 26). Despite day to day elusion, the potential for rhythmic predictability associated with the reproductive cycle is both undeniable and innately biological.

In addition to biological deposition, there are psychological characteristics that explain why people exhibit predictable behavior. People innately seek predictability in their lives: "In order to increase our stability or security, humans even organize their world according to predictable patterns" (Explorit 3). A family will usually eat dinner in the same room while an individual will likely park his or her car in the same vicinity each morning. The importance of sustaining predictability is more substantial than one might think. In a study, subjects readily sacrificed things that were pleasurable and likewise abandoned preferences in order to maintain predictability (Friedman). Because it is such an integral part of human nature, people will always construct their lives in a foreseeable fashion.

Although security is one motive for developing routine lives, another one is the result of personal optimization. Students, for instance, often sit in the same place each day even when seats are not assigned. They take it upon themselves to designate their own seats, which they will return to on a regular basis. The preferred seat allows the student to get whatever he or she wants whether it is a good view of the chalkboard, an ability to clearly hear the professor, or the desired socialization with friends. The regularity established is really no more than the product of optimization combined with human desire for individual predictability.

Human beings are not the only biological creature that exhibits predictability. Animals experience similar pattern development based on optimization. A study done in 1958 found that Australian reef herons predictably flew out to sea during low tide because it was the best time to feed. Although they could not see the status of the tide from their nesting area, their ability to tell when the tide would be low suggested the existence of some type of biological lunar clock (Hunter, "Tidal"). In a true example of survival of the fittest, those animals that learned to become in synch with their environment were the ones that survived and carried on predictability promoting genes. As posed by Ricki Lewis: "if you are a mouse, it is useful to be able to anticipate when an eagle will fly and already be in your burrow, rather than be caught scurrying into it" (2).

By establishing regularity, people systemize environmental cues that can stimulate rhythmic emotional or behavioral responses. In this way, the routines people follow can reinforce weaker biological cycles and lead to more predictable behavior. If people can utilize their own periodicity, they can better understand themselves and use this information to project their dispositions into the future. Unfortunately, the exact combination of biological, cognitive, and psychological conditions that mold personal predictability is unique to each individual. Because of this, generalized statistics, although popular, are not likely to mean much to the average person.

Despite the growing research backing biological predictability, some people still discredit its existence. Some see what others find intuitive as quite honestly counter-intuitive. Life has its own chaotic nature that interferes with predictability. Overall the world is a chaotic place. Therefore it is only reasonable to assess individual regularity aside from the world as a whole. Science cannot predict when a subject's car will break down as well as the emotional and behavioral repercussions. Psychologically, this perturbation of regularity is disturbing and something that each individual will go out of his or her way to avoid. Because people fight against their potentially chaotic environment in favor of predictability, overall individual regularity is inevitable. Although science will never be able to predict every action or feeling one has, it can pinpoint intrinsic predispositions and offer insight on innately biological tendencies such as sensitivity, desire, and daily temperament.

The existence of biological rhythms has both undeniably and scientifically been proven although the science still lacks scientific data on infradian rhythms. One could claim that trying to prove the existence of such patterns is as fruitless as looking for patterns in weather conditions as scientists did earlier this century. Although science has tried to isolate patterns for natural phenomenon such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and storms, scientific research was never able to conclude they existed. Chronobiology has isolated and confirmed the existence of biological rhythms however. It is a proven fact that life exhibits rhythmic patterns from breathing to reproduction. Nature is not a living entity and therefore falls into a separate classification. Although science has not proven the existence of patterns in natural disasters, it does not necessarily rule out their possible existence: "Because these natural phenomena occur infrequently, we may have seen too little of the pattern to be able to recognize it and make accurate predictions" (Explorit 2).

Another thorn in the side of chronobiology is the pseudoscience of biorhythms. The term biorhythm, originally an abbreviation for biological rhythms, has now been abandoned in hopes of severing all connections with the pseudioscience that gives legitimate research in chronobiology a bad name. Biorhythms claim that human performance is based upon three fixed cycles which embark at birth. The physical, emotional, and intellectual cycles each have distinct lengths and are sinusoidal. Biorhythms claim that the characteristics of these graphs control your wellbeing throughout your life independent of other circumstances. Since no scientific evidence has supported these claims, they are exclusively based upon examples of famous people whose past successes or failures corresponded to their biorhythmic charts (Gittelson). This attempt to argue from examples has not swayed scientific reasoning although a small portion of the general public has bought into some of it. The major downfall of this pseudoscience deviation is that it overgeneralizes people. By claiming that everyone exhibits the exact same pattern, the field is guilty of oversimplifying complex human life processes. The shortcomings of overgeneralizing can be seen in the study that found "ヂn increase in aggression and violence occurs around the time of the new moon and the full moon. However, for certain individuals, the opposite can occur" (Cohen 1). Unfortunately it is too often forgotten that a generalized statistics that applies to sixty percent of the population leaves two in five out.

Research in the growing field of chronobiology has made remarkable progress in the past few years. The scientific exploration of circadian rhythms has been very productive. As the research continues, the definitive understanding and proof of the existence of long-term cycles are inevitable extensions of this research. For reasons that are biological, psychological, and evolutionary, regularity exists in people's lives that paves the way for predictability. Life has its own distinct beats that are as brief as the constant murmur of a heart and as long as our own mortality can allow us to grasp. Free will is a human characteristic that cannot be taken away. Science will never be able to guarantee or control how someone will feel or behave. Instead it can only speculate based upon the extrapolation of past occurrences. How will you eat your Reeses Peanut Butter Cup? Chances are, in a subconscious attempt to maintain predictability, you will eat it just like you have the previous nine out of ten times. Any other way just wouldn't be right.


Works Cited
  1. Brown, Frederick. Rhythmic Aspects of Behavior. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1982.
  2. Caldwell, Mark. "Mind Over Time" Discover Magazine. July 1999. http://www.discover.com/july_99/featmind.html
  3. Cohen, Joseph-Mark. The Moon and Aggressive Behavior. 1998. Accessed April 6, 2000. http://astrologynow.com/about.Astrology.htm
  4. Explorit Science Center. Predictable Patterns. July 17, 1999. Accessed April 6, 2000. http://www.dcn.davis.ca.us/go/explorit/TERPS/patterns_terp.html
  5. Friedman, Myles. Human Nature and Predictability. Lexington, Massachusettes: Lexington Books, 1981.
  6. Gittelson, Bernard. Biorhythm: A Personal Science. New York, NY: Arco Publishing Company, 1977.
  7. Hunter, Liz, Yurasits, and Maxey. Other Rhythms-Tidal. March 30, 1996. Accessed April 6, 2000. http://www.cbt.virginia.edu/tutorial/OTHERRHYTHMSTIDAL.html
  8. Hunter, Liz, Yurasits, and Maxey. Other Rhythms-Infradian. March 30, 1996. Accessed April 6, 2000. http://www.cbt.virginia.edu/tutorial/OTHERRHYTHMSINFRA.html
  9. Hunter, Liz, Yurasits, and Maxey. Other Rhythms-Ultradian. March 30, 1996. Accessed April 6, 2000. http://www.cbt.virginia.edu/tutorial/OTHERRHYTHMSULTRA.html
  10. Lewis, Ricki. "Chronobiology Researchers Say Their Field's Time Has Come." The Scientist. December 11, 1995: page 14.
  11. One Woman. Cycle City. Date Unknown. Accessed April 6, 2000. http://onewoman.com/redspot/cycle.html
  12. Randolph. "Are People More Active During a Full Moon?" The Boston Globe. May 11, 1998: Health Sense.
  13. Richards, E. Cerebral Breathing. February 2, 2000. Accessed April 6, 2000. http://www.gwi.net/~erichard/cerebr.htm

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