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Systematic differences in circadian rhythmicity are thought to be a substantial factor determining inter-individual differences in fatigue and cognitive performance. The synchronicity effect (when time of testing coincides with the respective circadian peak period) seems to play an important role. Eye movements have been shown to be a reliable indicator of fatigue due to sleep deprivation or time spent on cognitive tasks. However, eye movements have not been used so far to investigate the circadian synchronicity effect and the resulting differences in fatigue. The aim of the present study was to assess how different oculomotor parameters in a free visual exploration task are influenced by: a) fatigue due to chronotypical factors (being a 'morning type' or an 'evening type'); b) fatigue due to the time spent on task. Eighteen healthy participants performed a free visual exploration task of naturalistic pictures while their eye movements were recorded. The task was performed twice, once at their optimal and once at their non-optimal time of the day. Moreover, participants rated their subjective fatigue. The non-optimal time of the day triggered a significant and stable increase in the mean visual fixation duration during the free visual exploration task for both chronotypes. The increase in the mean visual fixation duration correlated with the difference in subjectively perceived fatigue at optimal and non-optimal times of the day. Conversely, the mean saccadic speed significantly and progressively decreased throughout the duration of the task, but was not influenced by the optimal or non-optimal time of the day for both chronotypes. The results suggest that different oculomotor parameters are discriminative for fatigue due to different sources. A decrease in saccadic speed seems to reflect fatigue due to time spent on task, whereas an increase in mean fixation duration a lack of synchronicity between chronotype and time of the day.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Analysis of Variance, Biomarkers, Circadian Rhythm, Eye Movements, Fatigue, Fixation, Ocular, Humans, Photic Stimulation, Surveys and Questionnaires, Switzerland, Task Performance and Analysis, Time Factors