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Interplay of chronotype and school timing predicts school performance

Abstract

Most adolescents exhibit very late chronotypes and attend school early in the morning, a misalignment that can affect their health and psychological well-being. Here we examine how the interaction between the chronotype and school timing of an individual influences academic performance, studying a unique sample of 753 Argentinian students who were randomly assigned to start school in the morning (07:45), afternoon (12:40) or evening (17:20). Although chronotypes tend to align partially with class time, this effect is insufficient to fully account for the differences with school start time. We show that (1) for morning-attending students, early chronotypes perform better than late chronotypes in all school subjects, an effect that is largest for maths; (2) this effect vanishes for students who attend school in the afternoon; and (3) late chronotypes benefit from evening classes. Together, these results demonstrate that academic performance is improved when school times are better aligned with the biological rhythms of adolescents.

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Fig. 1: In adolescents, chronotype (MSFsc) is related to the interaction between age and school timing.
Fig. 2: Slopes of the regression lines between chronotype (MSFsc) and grades depend on school timing, age and school subject.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank students, members of the faculty and staff at the authorities of the Escuela Superior de Comercio Carlos Pellegrini for their participation and help, and for allowing us to conduct this study; L. Rodríguez, M. Bentura, A. Barral, M. Belén Varela, I. Santa Cruz, V. Sarmiento, L. Leone, A. Haimovici, M. Montané, G. Rodriguez Ferrante and G. Gellon. This research was supported by Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica. M.S. is sponsored by CONICET, FONCyT Argentina grant PICT-2013-1653 and the James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative in Understanding Human Cognition Scholar Award. D.A.G. is funded by CONICET, FONCyT and Universidad Nacional de Quilmes. A.P.G. is sponsored by CONICET. M.J.L is funded by CONICET and Universidad Nacional de Quilmes. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Conceptualization: A.P.G., M.S., D.A.G. and M.J.L. Data collection: A.P.G., G.B. and M.J.L. Data analysis: A.P.G. and M.J.L. Interpretation: A.P.G., M.S., G.B., D.A.G. and M.J.L. Writing: A.P.G. and M.J.L., with revisions from all other authors.

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Correspondence to María J. Leone.

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Goldin, A.P., Sigman, M., Braier, G. et al. Interplay of chronotype and school timing predicts school performance. Nat Hum Behav 4, 387–396 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0820-2

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