356 Take a Break!

Research by Rees, A., Wiggins, M. W., Helton, W. S., Loveday, T. & O’Hare, D. (2017).

Written by Shannon Cantalupo, B.S.

Have you ever been told at work that you need to take a break? Or noticed that once you take a break, when you return, it’s easier to complete the job? Coincidence? These researchers think not.

Australian and New Zealand psychologists studied what different types of break activities had on an individual’s overall performance.  

They randomly placed 87 college students into six groups. Each participant engaged in a railway control stimulation task for two 20-minute sessions. They monitored train lines crossing the computer screen identifying if they were on the correct tracks. Following the task, group one, the control group, was not allowed to take a break. Group two through six were allowed a 5-minute break, however the break activities differed based on their group (either silence, rest, do as wished, music + music video, choice of music or music video). Once their break was over, participants began their tasks again.

Results? Compared to the control group with no break, all performances were greater in the second 20-minutes in all of the break conditions, though no significant differences between the activities.

So next time you’re stuck on a task, take a break! Your performance will be enhanced.


Rees, A., Wiggins, M. W., Helton, W. S., Loveday, T. & O’Hare, D. (2017). The impact of breaks on sustained attention in a simulated, semi-automated train control task. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 31, 351-359.

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