Morning people are smarter? Early birds have higher verbal intelligence, which contradicts previous studies

OTTAWA— Highly intelligent people are often portrayed as night owls. For example, the devoted novelist who writes all night until dawn. While previous studies actually support this idea, finding that night owls typically exhibit more robust verbal intelligence, new research from the University of Ottawa suggests otherwise.

Turns out the early bird really does get the (verbal) worm.

“Once you take into account important factors such as bedtime and age, we found that the opposite is true, that morning types generally have superior verbal ability,” said Stuart Fogel, director of the University of Ottawa’s Sleep Research Laboratory, in a university publication. “This outcome was surprising to us and indicates that this is much more complicated than anyone previously thought.”

This latest study from Canada provides much-needed insight into how the impact of a person’s daily rhythm and activity level during both wakefulness and sleep relates to intelligence.

The research team identified the participants’ chronotypes (evening or morning tendencies) by tracking their biological rhythms and daily preferences. A person’s chronotype is related to when in the day they prefer to pursue or perform demanding or important tasks, from intellectual pursuits to exercise.

Typically, younger people tend to be ‘evening types’, while older individuals and those who are more regularly ensconced in their daily/nightly activities tend to be ‘morning types’. Ironically, the morning is usually a critical time for young people, especially those still in school.

“A lot of school start times aren’t dictated by our chronotypes, but by parents and work schedules, so school-going kids pay the price for that because they’re evening types who are forced to work on a morning schedule,” explains Fogel. “Math and science classes, for example, are normally scheduled early in the day because whatever morning inclinations they have will serve them well. But the AM is not when they are at their best because of their evening type tendencies. In the end, they are disadvantaged because the kind of schedule that is imposed on them is basically fighting against their biological clock every day.

This study used volunteers representing a wide variety of age groups. All subjects were rigorously screened to rule out sleep disturbances and other potential confounding factors. The subjects wore a measuring device to measure their activity level.

Fogel explains that establishing the power of a person’s rhythm, which drives intelligence, is key to understanding this study. Study authors point to a person’s age and actual bedtime as important factors. “Our brain really craves regularity and to be optimally in our own rhythm, we need to stick to that schedule and not constantly try to catch up,” he concludes.

The study is published in Ongoing research in the behavioral sciences.

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