The early bird can catch the worm: Superior verbal intelligence in early risers

The early bird can catch the worm: Superior verbal intelligence in early risers

Summary: Contrary to previous findings, a new study reports that early risers tend to have superior verbal skills compared to night owls.

Source: University of Ottawa

Night owls may be looking forward to a return to fall’s standard time, but a new study from the University of Ottawa found that daylight saving time may suit morning types just fine.

The research of dr. Stuart Fogel, a cognitive neuroscientist, professor in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Ottawa and researcher at the Royal Institute for Mental Health Research, sheds light on how the influence of a person’s daily rhythm and activity level during both wakefulness and sleep relates to human intelligence. Contrary to the saying “the early bird gets the worm”, previous work suggests that evening types, or “owls”, have superior verbal intelligence.

However, “when you take into account key factors, including bedtime and age, we found that the opposite is true, that morning types tend to have superior verbal abilities,” says Stuart Fogel, director of the University of Ottawa’s Sleep Research Laboratory. “This outcome surprised us and signals that this is much more complicated than anyone previously thought.”

Fogel’s team identified an individual’s chronotype—their evening or morning tendencies—by tracking biological rhythms and daily preferences. A person’s chronotype is related to when they prefer to do demanding things during the day, from intellectual activities to exercise.

Young individuals are typically “evening types”, while older individuals and those more regularly entrenched in their day/night activities are likely to be “morning types”. The opposite here is that the morning is critical for young people, especially children and adolescents of school age, whose schedules are determined by their morning parents and their routines. This could be doing young people a disservice.

“A lot of school start times aren’t determined by our chronotypes, but by parents and work schedules, and school-age kids pay the price because evening types are forced to work morning schedules,” says Fogel.

This shows a woman on a balcony
A person’s chronotype is related to when they prefer to do demanding things during the day, from intellectual activities to exercise. Image is in the public domain

“For example, math and science classes are usually scheduled early in the day because they will serve them well with whatever morning tendencies they have. But AM is not when they are at their best because of their evening tendencies. At the end of the day, they’re at a disadvantage because the type of schedule that’s forced upon them basically fights against their biological clock on a daily basis.”

The study included volunteers from a wide range of ages, who were rigorously screened to rule out sleep disorders and other confounding factors. They equipped the volunteers with a tracking device to measure activity levels.

Establishing the strength of a person’s rhythm, which drives intelligence, is key to understanding the results of this nuanced study, Fogel says, and a person’s age and actual sleep time are important factors.

“Our brain really craves regularity, and to be optimal in our rhythms is to stick to that schedule and not constantly try to catch up,” adds Fogel.

About this circadian rhythm and news about verbal intelligence research

Author: Paul Logothetis
Source: University of Ottawa
Contact: Paul Logothetis – University of Ottawa
picture: Image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Does the early bird really get the worm? How chronotype relates to human intelligence” Stuart Fogel et al. Current Research in the Behavioral Sciences

See also

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Does the early bird really get the worm? How chronotype relates to human intelligence


Chronotype affects our state at certain times of the day, however, chronotype is also heritable, similar to traits, and varies systematically with age and gender. However, only a few studies support a link between chronotype and trait-like cognitive abilities (ie., intelligence), and the evidence is sparse and inconsistent between studies. Typically, studies: (1) focused on limited subjective measures of chronotype, (2) focused only on young adults, and (3) did not consider gender differences. Here, using a combination of cognitive ability and ability testing, subjective chronotype, and objective actigraphy, we aimed to investigate the relationship between trait-like cognitive ability and chronotype.


Participants (N = 61; 44 women; age = 35.30 ± 18.04 years) completed the Horne-Ostberg Morningness and Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ) to determine subjective chronotype and wore an activity monitor for 10 days to objectively assess time sleep time, rise time, total sleep time, inter-day stability, intra-day variability and relative amplitude. cognitive abilities (for example., verbal, reasoning and short-term memory) testing was performed after the study was completed.

The results

Higher MEQ scores (ie more mornings) were associated with higher between-day stability scores. Superior verbal abilities were associated with later going to bed, younger age, but paradoxically, higher (ie, more in the morning) MEQ results. Superior STM abilities were only associated with younger age. Relationships between chronotype and trait-like cognitive abilities were similar for both men and women and did not differ between younger and older adults.


This study shows that chronotype, as measured by the MEQ, is highly associated with inter-day stability (ie strength of circadian synchronization). Furthermore, although evening types generally have superior verbal abilities, more (iemore in the morning) MEQ scores were associated with superior verbal abilities after controlling for “evening-type” behavior.

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