Given the choice, would you rather read a book or go jogging? I'm firmly in the read a book category,  but does that make me lazy or just super smart? I'm voting for the latter, and the science is agreeing with me. As the British Psychological Society's Research Journal points out,

According to Hollywood stereotypes, there are the clever, nerdy young people who spend most of their time sitting around thinking and reading, and then there are the jocks - the sporty, athletic lot who prefer to do as little thinking and studying as possible. This seems like a gross over-simplification and yet a new study in the Journal of Health Psychology suggests there may be a kernel of truth to it.

I'm probably being a bit conceited declaring myself super smart when I prefer learning to physical activity and the actual study. There are limitations to this study.

First of all, the study looked at only 60 people, which isn't a huge swath of the population. They selected 30 students who scored very high on the "Need Cognition Test" and 30 students who scored very low. They then tracked the physical activity of these people for seven days using an accelerometer. The "non-thinkers" were statistically significantly more active than the "thinkers."

So, a study of 60 college students, over one week, doesn't exactly scream reliable results, but it does scream interesting. Both groups were equally active on the weekend, however, so it doesn't indicate that the thinkers were inherently lazy--just perhaps dedicated. After all, these were students. Those interested in increased cognition liked activity as indicated by their weekend accelerometer readings, but didn't do much during the week. Is that an indication that laziness or just dedication to getting good grades?

For me, I didn't enjoy exercise until I got hooked on podcasts. Now, while I'm not jumping up to join a volleyball tournament, I'm happy to do my regular workouts while learning all sorts of new things. (Current favorite podcasts: Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, In Sight, The Moth, Reply All, and So to Speak. Please suggest more in the comments.) 

The stereotype of the brainless jock and the wimpy nerd, though, have been around a long time, as BPS points out. Stereotypes aren't manufactured out of whole cloth--they come through a build up of multiple people's experiences. We, as a group, have clearly experienced nerds who don't like getting up off the couch, and jocks who can't spell. But, I've also met plenty of brilliant people who are excellent athletes and people who are dumb as rocks and yet  not at all interested in physical activity. 

Does this study seem to make sense in your own life? Are you more interested in brain activity or physical activity? I'll reserve judgment on the application to the general population until the study has been widened to include non-students and last more than a week. But in the  meantime, I'll declare myself in need of cognition and go sit on the couch.

Published on: Aug 8, 2016
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