Although you might feel a little guilty after spending your evening glued to the screen as you catch up on House of Cards, new research shows relaxing isn’t just a sign of laziness; it could also mean you’re highly intelligent.
In fact, the study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found while people who don’t really like thinking seem to have shorter attention spans and stimulate their minds by exploring the world, those who like exploring thoughts and ideas spend more time laying around.
People who like thinking tend to be more intelligent, but less active
Researchers gave students a test called the Need for Cognition, which asks participants how strongly they agree or disagrees with statements like “I enjoy a task that involves coming up with new solutions to problems.” The researchers selected 30 students who classified as “thinkers” and another 30 “non-thinkers,” fitting them with accelerometers, a movement tracker, to see how active they were during the week.
The data showed that students who said they enjoyed thinking were much less active during the week compared to those who didn’t like thinking.
The researchers explained that the students less interested in thinking might get bored more easily. Since they aren’t stimulated by thought, they search out stimulation, which leads to more physical activity. On the flip side, people who like thinking don’t necessarily need to move around to entertain themselves, since ideas are enough.
Oddly, both types of thinkers were about just as active on the weekend, a change researchers weren’t able to explain.
Thinking vs. intelligence
You may be wondering what this study has nothing to do with intelligence. After all, just because someone likes sitting around lost in thought doesn’t mean they’re more intelligent than someone who’d prefer to kick around a soccer ball.
However, studies show the need for cognition test (and people who enjoy thinking or “thinkers”) is related to overall high intelligence and greater fluid (the ability to solve problems) and crystallized (the ability to use or apply knowledge) intelligence. However, it isn’t associated with a better working memory.
In fact, active people may have their mental benefits. Studies show exercise and staying active may be one way how to improve memory, and it’s easier for the brain to encode new information when you exercise.
Non-thinkers may stay active out of boredom or to escape their thoughts
The study backs up research from the ‘90s that shows people who don’t enjoy thinking to get bored more easily, and dislike feeling bored even more than thinkers. Interestingly, the British Psychological Society theorizes that non-thinkers may be uncomfortable with their thoughts and stay active to escape them.
It also adds to a growing list of less than desirable traits associated with intelligence. Aside from laziness, intelligent people are also more likely to be messy, stay up later, curse, and use drugs.
A sedentary lifestyle puts people who like thinking at risk
The study has other implications as well. Researchers warn around too often puts intelligent people at risk for some health problems.
“Ultimately, an important factor that may help more thoughtful individuals combat their lower average activity levels is awareness,” researchers told the British Psychological Society. “Awareness of their tendency to be less active, coupled with an awareness of the cost associated with inactivity, more thoughtful people may then choose to become more active throughout the day.”
The leader of the study, Todd McElroy also cautions about reading too much into the results. Although the results were “robust” and “highly significant” statistically, McElroy said it’s important to realize the study only looked at students from the United States, so different cultures or people who aren’t students might have different tendencies.
Of course, intelligence is more complex than simply dividing people into two categories. How people think, learn, remember, and apply their knowledge isn’t completely static and can be influenced by many factors, like physical activity, diet, lifestyle, and education. You don’t have to change yourself on a fundamental level to improve. Something as simple as going on more walks, taking a new class or taking brain boosting supplements like NuraDyne are enough to boost certain types of intelligence.