Dumb and dumber

People are getting dumber, according to a new study, reports the Huffington PostWesterners have lost 14 IQ points since the Victorian era, say Dutch psychologists.

Women of high intelligence have fewer children on average than less-intelligent women, said study co-author Jan te Nijenhuis, a University of Amsterdam professor.

Dr. te Nijenhuis and colleagues . . .  analyzed the results of 14 intelligence studies conducted between 1884 to 2004, including one by Sir Francis Galton, an English anthropologist and a cousin of Charles Darwin. Each study gauged participants’ so-called visual reaction times — how long it took them to press a button in response to seeing a stimulus. Reaction time reflects a person’s mental processing speed, and so is considered an indication of general intelligence.

In the late 19th Century, visual reaction times averaged around 194 milliseconds, the analysis showed. In 2004 that time had grown to 275 milliseconds.

U.S. IQ scores rose by three points from the 1930s to the 1980s in what’s known as the Flynn Effect, notes the Daily Mail. Scores also rose in Japan and Europe. Improved education, nutrition and living conditions explain the rise, says James Flynn of the University of Otago, after whom the effect is named.

Some believe the Flynn effect has masked a decline in the genetic basis for intelligence, so that while more people have been reaching their full potential, that potential itself has been declining.

Richard Lynn, a psychologist at the University of Ulster, believes average IQs around the world declined by one point from 1950 to 2000 and could fall another 1.3 points by 2050.

British 14-year-olds’ IQ scores declined by more than two points from 1980 to 2008, Flynn found. The drop was six points for teens in the upper half of the intelligence scale. “Youth culture is more visually orientated around computer games than they are in terms of reading and holding conversations.”

The movie Idiocracy starts with an explanation for declining intelligence in a society that’s lost natural predators.

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  1. “Putting it simply, in an embedded peasant economy, when the unit of production and consumption is the family household, it is sensible to have as large a family as possible, to work the land and to protect against risk in sickness and old age. To increase reproduction is to increase production. Yet as Jack Caldwell and others have shown, when the individual becomes integrated into the market, when wealth flows down the generations, when the cost of education and leaving for an independent economic existence on an open market occurs, children become a burden rather than an asset.23 In other words, capitalistic relations combined with individualism knocks away the basis of high fertility, and if this is combined with a political and legal security so that one does not have to protect oneself with a layer of cousin, the sensible strategy is to have a few children and to educate them well.

    A low-pressure demography means that a society avoids the situation where extra resources are automatically absorbed by population expansion. As Malthus argued, the only force strong enough to stand against the biological desire to mate and have children, was the even stronger social desire to live comfortably and avoid poverty. This is exactly what seems to have happened in England from at least the late medieval period.” — Alan Macfarlane, ‘The Invention of the Modern World’

    The increase in wealth and the move away from family/clan based enterprise with the rise of the individual, along with decrease in mortality make investing a lot in fewer children the better proposition. Unfortunately, not all populations have achieved modernity.

  2. Crimson Wife says:

    Books have been very much dumbed-down since the early part of the 20th century. When I read older titles, both the vocabulary and sentence structure tends to be much more complex than is typical for recent titles.

    My husband is in the process of revising a sci fi novel he wrote, and a big part of that is simplifying the language to get it to a 6th grade reading level. Apparently novels with no more than a 6th grade reading level are more likely to get picked up for publication than ones with a higher reading level. Bear in mind that this is a book aimed at an adult audience, not a teen or middle grades one.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    Alternately, the paper is garbage: