Skip to content
Surprising Science

What Staying Up Late Says about Your Intelligence Level

Conscience nocturnalism is a new wrinkle in the evolutionary development of mankind, a traditionally diurnal species.

According to evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, individuals who go to bed and wake up later tend to be more intelligent than those who stick to a more diurnal schedule. Kanazawa reached this conclusion by analyzing data about children’s sleep patterns:

“Net of a large number of social and demographic factors, more intelligent children grow up to be more nocturnal as adults than less intelligent children… For example, those with a childhood IQ of less than 75 (‘very dull’) go to bed around 23:41 on weeknights in early adulthood, whereas those with a childhood IQ of over 125 (‘very bright’) go to bed around 00:29.” 

Kanazawa began by forming a hypothesis based on evolutionary precedent: since being a night owl is a break away from the traditional human routine, those who opt for a nocturnal lifestyle are more likely to be brighter than their morning lark peers.

Here is Kanazawa explaining why smart people tend to have more crazy behavior.

In formulating his hypothesis, Kanazawa sifted through historical accounts of the world’s ancient cultures in search of evidence that any of them exhibited outlying nocturnal tendencies. Predictably, the limitations of creating light after dark caused humans to maintain a very steady diurnal routine. Now that current technology has granted us access to the day’s 24 hours , some individuals have made the conscious decision to alter their circadian rhythm and maintain a more nocturnal lifestyle. It’s this conscious decision that’s at the root of Kanazawa’s connection between night owls and advanced intelligence. It doesn’t take any particular smarts to stick to the traditional steady diurnal routine.

Although Kanazawa’s findings appear kosher on the surface, those looking for a peer-reviewed study focusing on this study won’t find one (or at least not linked in his 2010 article at Psychology Today). His conclusion depends on a few broad assumptions using limited available data, so perhaps take the above with a grain of salt.

(Note: It’s been brought to my attention that Kanazawa has a history with bad science, notably so here on Big Think a few years back. That on its own doesn’t debunk his idea but it does raise flags. Again — grain of salt).

Still, as a notorious night owl myself, I find comfort in that maybe there’s some chance my seemingly idiotic insistence on watching old Sopranos episodes until 3 a.m. is somehow rooted in deeply-ingrained and intelligent evolutionary consciousness. Perhaps not likely — but you never know.

Keep reading at Psychology Today

Photo credit: leungchopan / Shutterstock


Up Next