‘(Some) People Are Getting Dumber’

“People are getting dumber. That’s not a judgment; it’s a global fact. In a host of leading nations, IQ scores have started to decline.

“Though there are legitimate questions about the relationship between IQ and intelligence, and broad recognition that success depends as much on other virtues like grit, IQ tests in use throughout the world today really do seem to capture something meaningful and durable. Decades of research have shown that individual IQ scores predict things such as educational achievement and longevity. More broadly, the average IQ score of a country is linked to economic growth and scientific innovation.

“So if IQ scores are really dropping, that could not only mean 15 more seasons of the Kardashians, but also the potential end of progress on all these other fronts, ultimately leading to fewer scientific breakthroughs, stagnant economies and a general dimming of our collective future.

“As yet, the United States hasn’t hit this IQ wall — despite what you may be tempted to surmise from the current state of the political debate…

“If we want to prevent America from suffering this fate, we’d better figure out why IQs are dropping elsewhere. But it’s uncharted territory. Until recently, IQ scores only moved in one direction: up. And if you’re thinking, “Isn’t the test set up so that 100 is always the average IQ?“, that’s only true because researchers rescale the tests to correct for improving raw scores. (Also, congrats, that’s the kind of critical thinking we don’t want to lose!)

“These raw scores have been rising on a variety of standard IQ tests for over half a century. That may sound odd if you think of IQ as largely hereditary. But current IQ tests are designed to measure core cognitive skills such as short-term memory, problem-solving speed and visual processing, and rising scores show that these cognitive capabilities can actually be sharpened by environmental factors such as higher-quality schools and more demanding workplaces.

“For a while, rising IQ scores seemed like clear evidence of social progress, palpable proof that humanity was getting steadily smarter — and might even be able to boost brainpower indefinitely. Scholars called it the “Flynn effect“, in homage to J.R. Flynn, the researcher who recognized its full sweep and import.

“These days, however, Flynn himself concedes that “the IQ gains of the 20th century have faltered“. A range of studies using a variety of well-established IQ tests and metrics have found declining scores across Scandinavia, Britain, Germany, France and Australia.

“Details vary from study to study and from place to place, given the available data. IQ shortfalls in Norway and Denmark appear in longstanding tests of military conscripts, whereas information about France is based on a smaller sample and a different test. But the broad pattern has become clearer: Beginning around the turn of the 21st century, many of the most economically-advanced nations began experiencing some kind of decline in IQ.

“One potential explanation was quasi-eugenic. As in the movie “Idiocracy”, it was suggested that average intelligence is being pulled down because lower-IQ families are having more children (“dysgenic fertility” is the technical term). Alternatively, widening immigration might be bringing less-intelligent newcomers to societies with otherwise-higher IQs.

“However, a 2018 study of Norway has punctured these theories by showing that IQs are dropping not just across societies but within families. In other words, the issue is not that educated Norwegians are increasingly outnumbered by lower-IQ immigrants or the children of less-educated citizens. Even children born to high-IQ parents are slipping down the IQ ladder.

“Some environmental factor — or collection of factors — is causing a drop in the IQ scores of parents and their own children, and older kids and their younger siblings. One leading explanation is that the rise of lower-skill service jobs has made work less intellectually demanding, leaving IQs to atrophy as people flex their brains less.

“There are also other possibilities, largely untested, such as global warming making food less nutritious {Lol} or information-age devices sapping our ability to focus.

‘Ultimately, it’d be nice to pin down the precise reason IQ scores are dropping before we’re too stupid to figure it out, especially as these scores really do seem connected to long-term productivity and economic success.

“And while we might be able to compensate with skills besides intelligence, like determination or passion, in a world where IQ scores continue to fall — and where the drop expands to places like the United States — there’s also a bleaker scenario: a global intelligence crisis that undermines humanity’s problem-solving capacity and leaves us ill-equipped to tackle the complex challenges posed by AI, ‘global warming’ and developments we have yet to imagine.”
{Actually, the belief in human-caused ‘Global Warming’ — or ‘Climate Change — is probably caused by the drop in IQs…}

–‘IQ rates are dropping in many developed countries and that doesn’t bode well for humanity’,
Evan Horowitz, NBC News, May 22, 2019
“In the new study, the researchers observed IQ drops occurring within actual families, between brothers and sons – meaning the effect likely isn’t due to shifting demographic factors as some have suggested, such as the dysgenic accumulation of disadvantageous genes across areas of society.

“Instead, it suggests changes in lifestyle could be what’s behind these lower IQs, perhaps due to the way children are educated, the way they’re brought up, and the things they spend time doing more and less (the types of play they engage in, whether they read books, and so on)

“The findings are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

–‘IQ Scores Are Falling in “Worrying” Reversal of 20th Century Intelligence Boom’,
PETER DOCKRILL, Science Alert, 13 JUNE 2018

Then, there’s this:
“The researchers – Peera Wongupparaj, Veena Kumari and Robin Morris at Kings College London – (in a new study, published in the journal ‘Intelligence’)…analysed data from 405 previous studies. Altogether, they harvested IQ test data from more than 200,000 participants, captured over 64 years and from 48 countries.

“Focusing on one part of the IQ test, the “Raven’s Progressive Matrices”, they found that on average intelligence has risen the equivalent of 20 IQ points since 1950. IQ tests are designed to ensure that the average result is always 100, so this is a significant jump…

“IQ has generally increased more rapidly in developing countries, with the biggest leaps seen in China and India. Progress in the developed world has been chequered – the data seem to indicate steady increases in the US, for example, but a decline in the UK…

“If Americans today took the tests from a century ago, Flynn says, they would have an extraordinarily high average IQ of 130. And if the Americans of 100 years ago took today’s tests, they would have an average IQ of 70 – the recognised cut-off for people with intellectual disabilities. To put it another way, IQ has been rising at roughly three points per decade…

“One possible explanation has to do with changes in education.

“In most of the developed world, more people are now in school for longer, and teaching methods have evolved, moving away from the simple memorising of names, dates and facts. It seems like a reasonable assumption that education is training people to think better…

“But school prepares children for sitting IQ tests in other ways – what the psychologist Arthur Jensen has called “test wiseness“. Over time, students become used to the pressure of tests and they pick up examination-room tactics that improve their performance…

“Flynn puts this continued progress down to profound shifts in society as well as education over the last century, which have led people to think in a more abstract, scientific way – the kind of intelligence measured by IQ tests…

“A few other possible causes for the Flynn Effect have been put forward, some of them very intriguing.

“One, proposed by Arthur Jensen but yet to be investigated, points to the spread of electric lighting. The thought is that light from bulbs, TV screens and the like may have contributed to cognitive development in a similar way that artificial light stimulates growth in chickens.

“Then there is the theory that today’s world is more visual than the world of 100 years ago. The “Raven’s Progressive Matrices” – the subject of the recent international study into the Flynn Effect by Wongupparaj, Kumari and Morris – requires people to pick out patterns from an array of stripes and squiggles. This particular test has seen the biggest IQ increases of all. Perhaps television, video games, advertisements and the proliferation of symbols in the workplace have made it easier for us to decode pictorial cues and identify patterns?

“There is also a debate surrounding nutrition. In a 2008 article in “Intelligence”, Richard Lynn…argues that pre-natal nutrition is a determinant of birth weight, which is in turn correlated to higher IQs. A shortage of one particular nutrient – iodine – is known to stunt intellectual development in growing children. A 2005 paper examining iodine deficiency in China found that children’s IQ scores were higher in areas where there was no iodine deficiency, and it increased after a programme of supplements started.

“So explanations of the Flynn Effect abound – but what precisely does it signify? Do these steadily improving results indicate that the IQ test is not, after all, measuring intelligence? Or are people really cleverer than their forefathers?

I don’t think smarter has anything to do with it“,
says Flynn.
“Today we have a wider range of cognitive problems we can solve than people in 1900. That’s only because society asks us to solve a wider range of cognitive problems. People in 1900 had minds that were perfectly adequate for remembering first cousins once removed, they were perfectly adequate for ploughing a farm, they were perfectly adequate for making change in a store. No-one asked them to do tertiary education.

It’s like a weightlifter and swimmer. They may have the same muscles when they were fertilised in the womb, but they would have different muscles at autopsy, wouldn’t they? So today at autopsy, certain portions of our brain, for example those which use logic and abstraction, would have been exercised more and look differently. Other portions of the brain would have shrivelled a bit.”

“It may be, then, that certain abilities – problem-solving or reasoning ability, say – have improved but a general, underlying cognitive ability has not changed. This general ability is fundamental to the way many scientists view intelligence. Although little is actually known about it, there is supposed to be a general, hereditary quality that makes an individual who is good at giving fine speeches more likely to be good at Sudoku too. The problem is that this general cognitive ability is exactly what IQ tests are supposed to measure – in fact, of all the components of the IQ test, the ‘Ravens’ test was supposed to be the truest measure of it. If people aren’t becoming fundamentally more intelligent, IQ tests aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do.

“But Robin Morris is prepared to entertain the possibility that there may, over time, have been a real increase in general cognitive ability.

It seems to me that it’s reasonable to think that intellectual functioning could increase over time in more developed societies“,
says Robin Morris.

“But do we actually notice in our midst a higher proportion of geniuses than there were in earlier generations?

That’s the baffling aspect“,
Morris admits.
How could it go up so much but there aren’t all these very very smart people floating around? And that is a bit of a puzzle. But then, people have started to say, ‘Maybe there are more bright people floating around and they’re kind of hidden away because of the way science has become very specialist. They’re working in their own particular field and they’re doing amazing things – they’re acting as geniuses – but they’re not necessarily identified as such.” …”

–‘Are humans getting cleverer?’,
William Kremer, BBC, 2 March 2015


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