Those with a steadfast commitment to the couch potato lifestyle may be onto something after all. According to a new study published in the Sage Journal of Health Psychology, people who will find any excuse to skip the gym have higher levels of a trait called “need for cognition,” or a “tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive endeavors,” according to the researchers. In other words, those who lack any sort of athletic ability may make up for it in intelligence and a general love for deep thinking.
The researchers, led by Todd McElroy from Florida Gulf Coast University, recruited 60 college students. Half of the students scored particularly high on a test measuring the need for cognition, while the other half fell on the lower end of the spectrum, which points to a tendency to avoid anything too mentally taxing. All 60 were then required to wear activity trackers for a full week straight. When the seven days were up, McElroy and company found that while participants were similarly active over the weekend, those who preferred more cognitive stimulation per the test results were “far less active” during the week.
A sample size of 60 is hardly enough to warrant a sweeping generalization, but the findings do lend legitimacy to a common stereotype that once pervaded our popular culture: that of the un-athletic brainiac and the buff jock who can barely pull the C average required to make the football team. Typically depicted in outdated ’80s and ’90s teen movies, these rigid character designations faded in time with leg warmers and boy bands. But McElroy’s findings shed a new, perhaps more positive light on these typecasts—one that praises the intellectual’s more sedentary lifestyle rather than chastising them for it.
Do you possess a need for cognition yourself? Download the Luminosity app and put your brain to the test.