It shows that under-achievers - defined as those performing below their potential - are least likely to play a positive part in lesson.
Under-achieving boys are reluctant to answer teachers' questions as early as the first year of primary school. Under-achieving girls follow suit by Year 4.
The study knocks on the head the notion that boys dominate mixed-sex classes.
It shows that boys do call out more in class but high-achievers of both sexes make the most constructive contributions. From about Year 8, high-achieving girls answer most questions.
By that stage, the researchers led by Debra Myhill of Exeter University, found that even high-achieving boys behaved like their low-achieving classmates. From having been the keenest participants in Year 5, by Year 8 they were the most reluctant volunteers. The researchers suggest that this may be because adolescent boys see it as "not cool" to be hard-working or enthusiastic.
The research, which features in this month's British Educational Research Journal, arose from a commission by a group of schools in the Exeter area which wanted to find out why its boys were underachieving.
The group was a "pyramid" consisting of 12 first, three middle schools and one high school. Researchers focused on four pupil types: high-achieving boys and girls and under-achieving boys and girls, looking at the behaviour of one of each type in 36 classes over 106 teaching sessions.