So Maybe There’s Some Truth to That Whole Nerds-Versus-Jocks Thing

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Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

In the world of teen movies, there are a few things that seem to be universal truths: Parents just don’t understand, summer’s going to be awesome, and nerds and jocks are two entirely different species. There are the smart dorks, there are the dumb-but-ripped athletes, and never the twain shall meet, except for maybe a confrontation in the cafeteria or at prom.

The real world, thankfully, isn’t bound by the same logic as so many fictional high schools. But as Christian Jarrett recently highlighted over at BPS Research Digest, a new study found a grain of truth in at least one teen-movie trope: the idea that being brainy often comes at the exclusion of being buff. Specifically, the authors found that people tend to be less physically active if they have higher levels of a trait called “need for cognition.” (The authors defined it as “a tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive endeavors”; more simply put, it means you like thinking.)

For the study, published in the August issue of the Journal of Health Psychology, a team of researchers led by Florida Gulf Coast University’s Todd McElroy recruited 60 college students — 30 who scored particularly high on a test measuring need for cognition, and 30 clustered toward the low end of the spectrum — to wear activity trackers for a week straight. Over the weekend, the two groups logged roughly equal amounts of activity. During the week, though, the high scorers were significantly less active.

As Jarrett noted, the weekday results line up nicely with past research showing that “non-thinkers are more prone to boredom than thinkers, and find boredom more aversive. Perhaps non-thinkers resort to physical activity as a way to escape their inner worlds,” he wrote.