Morning people are smarter? Early risers have higher verbal intelligence, debunking previous studies

OTTAWA — Highly intelligent people are often portrayed as night owls. The dedicated novelist writing all night until daybreak, for example. While prior studies actually support this notion, finding that night owls typically display 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 account for key factors including bedtime and age, we found the opposite to be true, that morning types tend to have superior verbal ability,” says Stuart Fogel, Director of the University of Ottawa Sleep Research Laboratory, in a university release. “This outcome was surprising to us and signals this is much more complicated that anyone thought before.”

This latest research out of Canada provides some much needed insight into how the impact of a person’s daily rhythm and activity levels during both wake and sleep relates to intelligence.

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

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

“A lot of school start times are not determined by our chronotypes but by parents and work-schedules, so school-aged kids pay the price of that because they are evening types forced to work on a morning type schedule,” Fogel explains. “For example, math and science classes are normally scheduled early in the day because whatever morning tendencies they have will serve them well. But the AM is not when they are at their best due to their evening type tendencies. Ultimately, they are disadvantaged because the type of schedule 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 disorders and any other possible confounding factors. Subjects wore a monitoring device to measure their activity levels.

Fogel explains that establishing the strength 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 for us to be optimal in our own rhythms is to stick to that schedule and not be constantly trying to catch up,” he concludes.

The study is published in Current Research in Behavioral Sciences.

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