It’s unquestioned that IQ scores are dropping in the West, but I think there’s more to it than screen time. Educational trends and culture matter too.
The West is losing IQ points. Daniel Hannan points to a disturbing reality in the modern world – we’re getting more stupid. Western IQ scores are dropping (and keep in mind as you read Hannan’s words and mine that IQ tests measure a very specific type of academically-based, analytical intelligence):
The fall in IQ scores in the West is perhaps the most under-reported story of our era. For most of the twentieth century, IQ rose by around three points per decade globally, probably because of better nutrition. But that trend has recently gone into reverse in developed countries.
You hadn’t heard? I’m not surprised. Journalists and politicians won’t go near the subject and you can see why. Consider the theories offered by neuroscientists for the decline. Some argued it had to do with the rising age of motherhood, because the children of older mothers tend to have lower IQs, other things being equal. No one likes to say this, because it can come across as “older moms have dumb kids,” which is not true. (My wife and I were 44 when our youngest child was born, and my own parents were also elderly, but that didn’t make me too thick to grasp the concept of statistical distributions.)
Other theories were even more explosive. For example, that unintelligent people were having more kids, or that the fall in average scores reflected immigration from places with lower IQs.
But a new study from Norway, which examines IQ scores from 730,000 men (standardized tests are part of military service there) disproves all these ideas, because it shows IQ dropping within the same families. Men born in 1991 score, on average, five points lower than men born in 1975. There must, in other words, be an environmental explanation, and the chronology throws up a clear suspect: the rise in screen-time.
I’m sure that Hannan is correct that screen time matters. It’s not just that people spend a lot of time playing mindless games. It’s also that answers are now at everyone’s fingertips. People no longer need to engage in the hard mental work of figuring out the right question, tracking down the data, and then, if the data doesn’t spell out the answer explicitly, reasoning through to a response to the question.
I think, though, that it’s too facile just to blame screen time for the fact that Westerners are showing less academic acumen. Instead, I think there are several factors at play, from dumbed-down education, to academia’s focus on indoctrination over academic rigor, to the growth of populations that do not value traditional educations. [Read more…]