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.

Just say ‘not yet’ on marijuana

Persuading teens to say no to marijuana is harder these days, now that it’s legal for adults in Colorado and Washington, reports Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times.

Forty-four percent of teens have tried marijuana at least once and 7 percent use it frequently, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

In a survey, young people were asked what influences them not to use drugs.

Getting into trouble with the law and disappointing their parents were cited as the two most common reason young people did not use marijuana. The concern now is that legalization will remove an important mental barrier that keeps adolescents from trying marijuana at a young age.

The brain is still developing during adolescence, and marijuana can interfere with the wiring, say drug-prevention experts. They want young people to delay drug use till their brains have matured, some time in the early 20s.

Studies in New Zealand and Canada have found that marijuana use in the teenage years can result in lost I.Q. points. (Partnership CEO Steve) Pasierb says the current generation of young people are high achievers and are interested in the scientific evidence about how substance use can affect intelligence.

. . . “Talk to a junior or senior about whether marijuana use shaves a couple points off their SATs, and they will listen to you.”

The achievers may listen, but they’re the least likely to fry their brains with weed — or other drugs. It’s the kids with fewer IQ points to spare — and less mature brains — who are at risk of abusing drugs and alcohol.

Stupid question on smart atheists

An Ohio State psychology quiz tells students that smart people probably are atheists:

Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125.

Which of the following statements would you expect to be true?

• Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian. 

• Aine earns less money than Theo.

• Theo is more liberal than Aine.

• Theo is an atheist, while Aine is a Christian.

“Every group is protected from offensive speech on campus except for conservative Christians,” University of North Carolina Professor Mike Adams told Campus Reform. “So would it be permissible to force blacks to take a class teaching that blacks would have a lower IQ than white people?” he asked.

All four answers are false, writes Jim Lindgren on the Washington Post‘s Volokh blog. “Even if atheists score 3-4 points higher on IQ tests than Christians, there are so many more Christians in the population that it is much more likely that someone with a 125 IQ score is a Christian than that such a person is an atheist.”

On an IQ-derived analogies test,  8 percent of those with a score corresponding to a 125 IQ were atheists, he writes, while 83 percent were Christians.

Ohio States probably doesn’t teach students that Jews score 13.2 points higher on IQ tests than atheists. (Muslims score the lowest, but it’s a small sample size.) Republicans score slightly higher than Democrats. Oh, and Ohioans score lower than Iowans.

‘When you struggle, you’re growing’

College students are more likely to succeed in remedial math classes if they’re taught that ability is malleable: The more you use your brain, the better it works.

Are you smart enough for kindergarten?

Are You Smart Enough to Get Into Private Kindergarten? asks DNAinfo.com. Some of New York City’s most elite private schools will require four-year-olds to take a new, harder admissions test.

ERB‘s Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners  (AABL) costs $65, rather than $568 for the old test, because the new test doesn’t require a trained examiner. Kids take it on an iPad. But “experts believe many parents will shell out even more on classes and books to prepare their toddlers.”

“The AABL is supposed to identify a child’s ability and achievement,” said Emily Glickman, president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting. Achievement for preschoolers? That’s “totally new,” she says.

Here are five sample questions from the test. All seem to be measuring intelligence rather than knowledge. I got 100 percent — but one answer (see below) was a 50-50 guess. I still don’t know why my answer was correct. If I’d seen this when I was four . . .

Which completes the pattern?


Unpacking epiphany

What “big ideas” do people discuss at ideas festivals? At this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival (which runs through tomorrow), some people are discussing how to measure imagination and creativity. According to Scott Barry Kaufman, director of the Imagination Institute, we are  failing to identify creative students; some get labeled as learning disabled.

Before continuing, I must admit to two things: serious doubt that “big ideas” ultimately carry the day (I generally favor medium-sized ideas, though I consider the quality of an idea more important than its size), and occasional fascination with some of them. Overall, I favor pursuing these ideas but not jumping to conclusions about their applications and implications.

For instance, this passage (from an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education) struck me as interesting, though not revelatory, since it meshes with my own experience:

Meanwhile, Mark Beeman wants to unpack epiphany. One thing Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University, has found is that, before a sudden insight, people show increased activity in several parts of the brain including an area known as the anterior cingulate cortex. Also, before an insight, people tend to be focused on something other than the problem they’re trying to solve, like playing with their kids or taking a shower.

But I would be wary of a pedagogical approach that involved steering students onto another topic in order to produce an insight about the topic left behind. “Ok, everyone, stop what you’re doing and draw a tree!”

Identifying creative students is a worthy goal, but creativity comes in many forms, and I doubt one test, or even a “battery” of tests, could detect them all. The Chronicle article notes the limitations of current creativity tests:

The tools that we now have to measure creativity are fairly crude. A researcher might ask someone to list alternate uses for a bowl and then count the number of ideas he or she comes up with. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t get at the deep creativity necessary to become a brilliant physicist or a mind-blowing sculptor. Something else is going on there, and it’s worth figuring out what it is.

Amen. Too often I have seen creativity equated with brainstorming, and they are not the same.

One possibility–not mentioned in the article–is that “deep creativity” has something to do with deep involvement in a particular subject or medium. That is, you aren’t “creative” in a vacuum; it’s your relation to the subject that draws your creativity out. Also, there’s a doggedness that goes with creativity. It isn’t a static trait.

Thus, even if we had better creativity tests, there’s still a good chance that people would get mislabeled. It’s one thing to show some traits that are generally associated with creativity; it’s another to do something with them.

There’s much more to say on this subject–but since I’m traveling today, I’ll leave it at that.

Genius is in the doing

We’re paying too much attention to child geniuses, argues Jordan Ellenberg, a former prodigy who’s now a math professor and writer.

I started reading at 2. I could multiply two-digit numbers in my head when I was 5. One of my earliest memories is working out a way to generate Pythagorean triples. In third grade, I commuted to the local junior high to take geometry.

. . . Many advocates for gifted education are similarly delighted by kids like me, seeing us as a kind of natural resource, one we risk squandering as surely as we do fossil fuels. . . . “These are the people who are going to figure out all the riddles,” the Vanderbilt University psychologist David Lubinski said in a recent interview. “Schizophrenia, cancer—they’re going to fight terrorism, they’re going to create patents and the scientific innovations that drive our economy. But they are not given a lot of opportunities in schools that are designed for typically developing kids.”

Most child prodigies grow up to be highly successful adults, Ellenberg writes. But “most highly successful people weren’t child prodigies.” Don’t expect the geniuses to solve all the riddles, he writes. The other 99 percent will have to do most of the work.

The cult of genius tends to undervalue hard work and the productive persistence that psychologists nowadays like to call “grit” — not to mention creativity, perspective and taste, without which all those other virtues may be wasted on pointless projects.

His math students believe that it’s not worth doing math unless you’re the best, one of the “special few,” complains Ellenberg, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin. If you’re not a genius, you’re chopped liver. “Genius is a thing that happens, not a kind of person,” he concludes.

Separate and gifted?

Eliminate gifted tracks in New York City, argue Halley Potter of the Century Foundation and David Tipson of New York Appleseed in the New York Times Room for Debate blog.

Seventy percent of the city’s gifted and talented (G&T) kindergarteners are white and Asian, while 70 percent of students are black and Latino, they write.

“Segregation” harms the education of low-income students. they argue. “At the same time, affluent white and Asian students in the city’s separate G&T classrooms are also denied the cognitive and social benefits that socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms offer.”

Gifted children won’t “be fine” in mixed-ability classes, responds Rick Hess.

. . . we’re putting much at risk when we simply hope that overburdened classroom teachers can provide the teaching and learning that gifted children need. Anyone who has watched a teacher labor to “differentiate” instruction in a classroom that encompasses both math prodigies and English language learners knows it’s unreasonable to expect most teachers to do this well.

Students do best in classrooms with students of similar ability, researcher Bruce Sacerdote writes. “We know from data, from theory and, most important, from decades of experience that ability grouping or tracking can have a big payoff. . . . High-ability students benefit the most from high-ability peers.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Judy of Consent Of The Governed is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling. The theme is wisdom.

Shivram Gandhi, a “random teenager interested in self-improvement,” writes about his plan to improve his own “fluid intelligence.” He calls it “Project IQ.”

At Pious Homemaking, Andrea is focusing on character training. She’s starting with attentiveness.

Smarter than thou

The average American believes he or she is smarter than the average American, according to a YouGov survey. Fifty-five percent say they’re more intelligent than average, 34 percent say they’re about as smart and only 4 percent believe they’re less intelligent than average Americans.