Interactions Between Cognition and Circadian Rhythms: Attentional Demands Modify Circadian Entrainment

Howard J. Gritton, Blair C. Sutton, Vicente Martinez, Martin Sarter, Theresa M. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Animals and humans are able to predict and synchronize their daily activity to signals present in their environments. Environmental cues are most often associated with signaling the beginning or the end of a daily activity cycle, but they can also be used to time the presentation or availability of scarce resources. If the signal occurs consistently, animals can begin to anticipate its arrival and ultimately become entrained to its presence. While many stimuli can produce anticipation for a daily event, these events rarely lead to changes in activity patterns during the rest of the circadian cycle. Here the authors demonstrate that performance of a task requiring sustained attention not only produces entrainment, but produces a robust modification in the animals' activity throughout the entire circadian cycle. In particular, normally nocturnal rats, when trained during the light phase (ZT 4) adopted a significant and reversible diurnal activity pattern. Of importance, control experiments demonstrated that this entrainment could not be attributed to the noncognitive components of task performance, such as handling, water deprivation, access to water used as a reward, or animal activity associated with operant training. These findings additionally indicate that levels of cognitive performance are modulated by the circadian cycle and that such activity can act as a highly effective entrainment signal. These results form the basis for future research on the role of neuronal systems mediating interactions between cognitive activity and circadian rhythms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)937-948
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • cognition
  • entrain
  • nonphotic
  • phase shift
  • sustained attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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