Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The 21st Century West - Growing Steadily Dumber.

Ever since we entered the millennium, IQ scores across the West have been dropping.

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.
...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.

...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 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.


rumleyfips said...

Nice to see that CO2/rice study. Last week is saw a comment that CO2 is plant food from a reformatory troll. That argument has been destroyed.

Owen Gray said...

Interesting. This puts the March Toward Folly in context.

The Mound of Sound said...

It's interesting that the IQ drop is being found in both parents and children. That seems to hint at something environmental, perhaps a force that has cognitive consequences. Again I come back to smartphones and tablets. It is eerie how youth and adults alike are now welded to their "devices."

There have been ample studies that find persistent use of smartphones, especially for texting, is changing how brains operate, how information is processed and remembered. It seems at least plausible that something having such a powerful effect could impact IQ.

You, Owen, have repeatedly noted the decline in critical thinking today. If the ability to sense reality, to distinguish probable truth from probably falsehood, has declined or, worse, become impaired, is it really a stretch to suspect it could impact IQ?

Trailblazer said...

The article states.

What the results show is that a turning point for the Flynn effect occurred for the post-1975 birth cohorts, equivalent to 7 fewer IQ score points per generation.

Happy to say I just missed the post 1975 group! and perhaps we of a certain maturity have justification when speaking of those younger when we say..
Sheesh, kids nowadays they don't have the smarts that we had at their age!

Ok that comment is a generational thing but the world has changed significantly since 1975 in lifestyle , socially and the environment.
As we have 'progressed" we have endeavoured to make life easier for for upcoming generations of offspring.


Trailblazer said...

What happens when reduced IQ meets peak AI ?


The Mound of Sound said...

Sparks fly, I suppose.

Toby said...

Mound, I confess to being suspicious about these results. The tests are measuring something but it isn't clear exactly what. Most of a lifetime ago I did well on IQ tests. I was well schooled in taking tests and IQ was just one more. What about today when teaching methods have changed?

I describe myself as an analogue man in a digital world. Dewey Decimal I can handle but computerized parking machines just frustrate me. I don't own a cell phone as it looks to me to be one step away from an electronic implant. I walk away from TV; much prefer radio. Etc. Kids these days are quite functional but I bet they would do poorly on the old IQ tests I took.

What I'm getting at, sort of, is that there is an enormous cultural component in the tests. We like to think that IQ tests measure capacity to think but more likely they just measure recall. Psychologist Alfred Binet, who created the first IQ tests, warned against mass use of them because it is too easy to extrapolate too much.

The Mound of Sound said...

As the article points out, Toby, today's IQ tests are more expansive than anything Binet created. They are "designed to measure core cognitive skills such as short-term memory, problem-solving speed and visual processing."

Toby said...

I read that, Mound. I'm sure they have refined the tests and refined again. And I'm sure they are better. However I still have my doubts. Intelligence is much more complicated than a bunch of tests. I'm sure you have met individuals who were eminently qualified with all sorts of diplomas, degrees and awards who turned out to be useless at practical matters. What is so puzzling today is the vast numbers of people who are highly skilled at complicated trades and even professions yet deny science and what can be easily seen such as glacial retreat.

It's a fascinating subject. The author(s) of those reports re probably right but I will withhold my acceptance until I've dug deeper.

Anonymous said...

The UCP is calling on grade eight students to write public exams this coming year. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies cell phone radiation as a “possible human carcinogen” due to an increased risk of brain cancer from long-term and heavy use of cell phones. ... Human brain cells communicate via electrical impulses, which can be detected by non-invasive EEG (Electroencephalogram) measurements. Cell phone exposure increases brain cell activity. The radiation emitted after 50 minutes on a mobile phone increases activity in brain cells. (CNN) -- The radiation emitted after just 50 minutes on a mobile phone increases the activity in brain cells, according to a new government-funded study.Scientists previously thought that the radiation from cell phones might damage cells by heating human tissue. At high power levels radio frequency waves—the kind emitted by cell phones—can heat up water molecules. Since human tissue is mostly water, scientists hypothesized that those waves might cause damage by heating. Anyong

Toby said...

From one of the links above: https://www.sciencealert.com/iq-scores-falling-in-worrying-reversal-20th-century-intelligence-boom-flynn-effect-intelligence

"Another possibility is that IQ tests haven't adapted to accurately quantify an estimate of modern people's intelligence – favouring forms of formally taught reasoning that may be less emphasised in contemporary education and young people's lifestyles.

"Intelligence researchers make a distinction between fluid and crystallised intelligence," one of the study's authors, research economist Ole Rogeberg explained to The Times.

"Crystallised intelligence is stuff you have been taught and trained in, and fluid intelligence is your ability to see new patterns and use logic to solve novel problems."

The implication here is that it's not us that is at fault: it's IQ tests."

Tal Hartsfeld said...

I'll go with the notion that the less people "flex their brains"---a.k.a. engage in mentally/intellectually challenging tasks---the more the brain atrophies
...that it's the current-day cultural influences, alongside the social environment being more superficial and vapid, that may possibly be partially responsible for the collective brains getting progressively "softer"