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Describe and evaluate research on circadian rhythms with reference to

endogenous pacemakers and exogenous zeitgebers. ( AO1- 8 MARKS)

( AO2/AO3- 16 MARKS).

Circadian rhythms- this term refers to 24 hour rhytms, such as the body
temperature in humans ( one peak in 24 hours), and the sleep-waking cycle.
Biological rhythms are controlled by internal clocks known as endogenous
pacemakers and environmental cues known as exogenous zeitgebers such as
light, temperature etc.
Two key brain structures in the control of biological rhytms are the
superchiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which is located in the hypothalamus. The SCN
regulates the secretion of melatonin in the pineal gland (this is an endogenous
pacemaker which produces the hormone melatonin which affects sleep). The
pineal gland is connected to the retina of the eye. This highlights the indirect link
between exogenous zeitgebers such as light and how melatonin production from
the pineal gland works together with the SCN to maintain a rhythm.
The effect of the absence of exogenous zeitgebers on the circadian rhythm has
been investigated by Michael Siffre. He spent 6 months in an underground cave
with no natural light the cave was artificially lit and Siffre could use a telephone
to ask for the lights to be turned on or off. He could also sleep and eat when he
wanted. It was found that his sleep-waking circadian rhythm extended from the
normal 24 hours to between 25-32 hours. When he came out he thought it had
only been 151 days when in fact it had been 179 days. His body temperature
was more stable ad extended only very slightly ( 25 hours).
This study supported the presence of endogenous pacemakers and the
importance of exogenous zeitgebers in regulating internal biological clocks
adding validity for the existence of an endogenous clock. This was a single case
study and therefore lacks validity as it only shows the behaviour of a single
individual which means there is difficulty in generalising the results to the wider
. Also the conditions of the cave such as it being cold may have affected his
bodily functions. This study is supported by Aschoff and Weaver who found that
the sleep-wake cycle of students kept in an underground bunker under similar
conditions as Siffre himself also extened to between 25-29 hours. This adds
reliability to the findings by Siffre which adds validity to the study. Another
limiting factor
of this study is that Siffre was French- this study is culture bis and there is
difficulty generasing the results to the wider population as different cultres may
have behaved/reacted fifferently to this situation as different cultures have
different sleep-wake cycles but this study just assumes that all sleep-wake cycles
are similar. Siffre was a male so this study is gender bias as the findings may not
be generalizable to females. Assuming there are no differences between males
and females can lead to the study showing beta bias. Women may have
responded differently to the research and produced different results due to
additional factors such as hormones. Therefore this study fails to explain the

effect of the absence of exogenous zeitgebers on the circadian rhythms of

. Another weakness of siffres study is that it only accounts for the biological
influences on the circadian rhythms and therefore is deterministic. Human
behaviour is more complex than biological explanations assume and there are
many influences on the circadian rhythm than just that. There is also too much
emphasis on the nature side of the nature/nurture debate when both interact
with each other- so this is an unrealistic view of the role of endogenous
pacemakers. This means its a reductionist explanation as it fails to take into
account other explanations.
Stephan and zucker investigated the role of endogeneous pacemakers by
damage to the SCN on circadian rhythms. Rats were housed in a lab with 12
hours of light followed by 12 hours of dark. They showed normal locomotor
activity and driking.
They then compared a group with damage to the SCN with a group of normal
control rats and found that damage to the SCN eliminated the normal circadian
patterns of drinking and activity.

Stephan and Zucker also damaged other parts of the hypothalamus to show this
did not affect the circadian rhhtyms this adds reliability to there study and which
increases internal validity of the study. This study however was an animal study
therefore results have to be generalised to humans with caution as there are
differences in anatomy of humans as compared to rats. There are also ethical
concerns to be taken into consideration such as harming the rats intentionally
and killing them.
Hwoever it could be argued that the benefits gained from the study such as a
further understanding of the SCN role in circadian rhythms outweigh the costs of
the study. This was a laboaratory experiment so the IV and DV were controlled
which means this study can be replicated so is more reliable however lacks
ecological validity so the findings cannot be generalized to real life settings.
Folkard et al (1985) conducted an experiment to test whether external cues
could be used to override the internal free running clock. A volunteer sample of
12 participants lived in a cave for 3 weeks, isolated from natural lights and other
time cues. They agreed to wake up at a certain time and sleep at a certain time
everday. Gradually folkard quickened the clocks so that only 22 hours would pass
in what the participants thought to be 24 hours. It was found that all the
participants apart from one continued to display a 24 hour circadian rhythm.
Therefore, we can conclude that exogenous zeitgebers only have a limited effect
on the free running rhythm. A strength of this study is that both endogenous
pacemakers and exogenous zeitgebers are accounted for representing both sides
of the nature-nurture debate. It could also be said to be more reflective of real
life than Siffres study as it takes a general approach to human behaviour.
However it is arguable that although the study may seem more reflective of real
life, the experiment took place underground. This unusual setting means that the

study lacks ecological validity and the results may not be applicable to real life
Miles et al studied a man who was blind from birth and had a circadian rhthmym
of 24.9 hours. He was exposed to various exogenous zeitgebers such as losk and
social cues yet struggled to reduce his internal pace. This made it very difficult
for him to function and he had to take pills to get his biological rhythm in synch
with the rest of the world. This shows that perhaps sme biological clocks may not
be influenced and are solely ingrained. The SCN clearly is not the only biological
clock as other studies show there other oscialltors in the boyd that appear to
regulate biological rhythms. Explaining that circadian rhyhms are solely
dicateaed bu the scn and pineal gland is reductionist as this view oversimplifies
human biology is far more complex.