Are We Getting Stupider?

If you believe that IQ levels are an accurate measure of intelligence, then intelligence peaked among those born in 1975 (two years after me!) and has since been in decline.

At least according to research conducted by some Norwegian scientists earlier this year who analysed the scores achieved by 730K young men who did IQ tests before undertaking their national service from 1970 to 2009.

They found that for many years, the IQ levels of entrants rose gradually by an average of 0.3 points per year, but that it peaked among those born in 1975, and declined until 2009.

Of course, there are limitations to this study… it only looks at IQ, and it is only based in one nation, but it’s one of the few studies that investigates long term changes in intelligence using a standardised measure (an IQ test delivered to the same type of people in the same situation).

There are various theories as to why IQ is in decline….

This paper suggests that environmental factors outside of the family are largely to blame, which could include:

  • changes in education
  • changing patterns of media use
  • lower quality of nutrition and worse health
  • differences in intelligence because of increased immigration

Other theories suggest that these findings aren’t a sign of decreasing intelligence, just that young people today learn differently: particularly, they are less skilled at tasks which involve memory, as some aspects of IQ tests do, because use of the internet does not train them in this… so maybe it’s not all doom and gloom, but this does raise questions about how we actually measure intelligence over time?

Exam results in the UK, and elsewhere in the world may be improving, but I suspect this is more due to grade inflation rather than this performance showing increased intelligence, so I’d have to rule this out.

If you just take a general look around at what’s been ocurring in the world in 2018 there’s not a lot of evidence of the world having become more intelligent either – we’re killing the planet by eating too much meat and using too much plastic, we’re looking to build walls to make sure people who are poorer than us can’t access the nice things most of us don’t deserve, and most of us continue lead woefully sub-optimal lives.

Maybe this Norway study just confirms my biases that the world as a whole is also getting stupider , but I see little valid evidence to refute this!


Image Source –

NB – Ironically for the topic, I’m not sure what this actually represents! IE no idea where the data came from, it’s just a nice picture for the post!

296 thoughts on “Are We Getting Stupider?”

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