Why It’s So Hard to Remember Which Day of the Week It Is

iStock / iStock

It seems most people tend to remember whether it’s the start or end of the workweek, but sometimes struggle to identify Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Why the discrepancy?

A new study in PLOS ONE indicates that people are slowest to identify these days of the week compared to Mondays or Fridays, and suggests that this is because people don’t have very many mental representations of midweek days such as Tuesdays. 

In three different studies, psychologists from the U.K. examined how people thought about different days of the week. In one online survey, they asked 1115 people to name the day of the week; more than 37 percent of respondents got the answer wrong during a normal week, and more than 52 percent got it wrong during a bank holiday week, when many businesses were closed on Monday. The discrepancies between the perceived and actual day of the week were more likely to occur on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. In another test, the researchers measured 65 university undergraduates’ response times to the question “Can you tell me what day of the week it is today?” (The participants were paid for their time.) Response times were fastest when the participants came into the lab on Mondays and Fridays, and slowest on Wednesdays. 

In a third experiment, 60 undergraduates (in exchange for class credit) were asked to complete a free association task that would illuminate some of the mental associations with different days of the week. The researchers found that the students thought of much fewer words to associate with midweek days. They came up with more general associations (like “fun” or “family”) for Fridays, Mondays, and the weekend days. Mondays were associated with words like “boring,” “hectic,” and “tired,” while Fridays, unsurprisingly, were connected to words that connected back to the start of the weekend, like “freedom,” “release,” and “party.” Perhaps we can’t remember whether it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, the researchers hypothesize, because those days don’t have regular associations for us. Friday almost always involves some sort of feeling of being temporarily released, whether from work or school obligations, and Mondays usually mean a return to those obligations. But Wednesdays? They don’t stand out.  

While the study on word associations is intriguing, it is too small to say anything definite about population-wide Wednesday amnesia. Yet if you look at popular culture, the findings seem to pan out. There are culturally engrained feelings that surround Fridays (TGIF!) and Mondays (case of the Mondays), but there are not as many strong associations with those filler weekdays between the two. In fact, when the researchers searched the Internet for weekday names, there were fewer mentions of midweek days.

We may hate Mondays, but at least we remember them.