Why Are IQ Scores Going DOWN in America?
It’s not your imagination, the country is getting stupider.
Have you ever heard of the “Flynn Effect?” It’s based on the work of Dr. James Flynn, who observed that over the last century or so, IQ scores have been going up worldwide. In the United States, IQ scores have been going up about 3 points per decade. There are plenty of arguments about why that’s happening, but there are some educated guesses we can make.
During the past century, the school systems have improved. The country has also gotten much, much richer. Not only does that mean more leisure time and more access to educational materials, but it means more access to food. Yes, people used to eat more nutritious, natural food than we do today, but it was hard enough to come by that malnutrition was much more of a problem than it is now. Some people even think lead and getting a handle on diseases like malaria may have played a significant role and it’s entirely possible that they’re right.
Some of you may be thinking, “Well, of course, we’re smarter than our ancestors. Nothing could be more natural than for a people to improve from one generation to the next!” It would be wonderful if this conceit were merited, but progress is never guaranteed. It must be earned and unfortunately, our society has gone backward on a number of fronts, including IQ:
A new study found a sharp decline in American IQ scores in recent years, offering support for what researchers term the “Reverse Flynn Effect.”
Examining a large U.S. sample, researchers from Northwestern University found that IQ ability scores in three of four key categories dropped between 2006 and 2018. Composite ability scores (single scores derived from multiple pieces of information) were also lower in recent samples.
...researchers did find that American scores in the fourth key IQ category, spatial reasoning, had generally increased from 2011 to 2018.
Ultimately, results support a global decline in IQ scores beginning in the 1990s and 2000s. This phenomenon has become known as the “Reverse Flynn Effect.”
...After over a half-century of people becoming mysteriously smarter, recent research has unexpectedly revealed that global IQ scores seemingly peaked in the 1990s and have been in steady decline ever since.
Studies examining sample populations from Norway, Denmark, Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, and now the United States have all shown statistically significant declines in IQ scores.
...Using data collected by the Synthetic Aperture Personality Assessment Project and International Cognitive Ability Resource, researchers explored intelligence ability scores of a U.S. sample size of 394,378 persons from 2006-2018.
Results revealed a decline in intelligence scores in verbal reasoning, matrix reasoning, and letter and number series. This decline was uniform across all sample groups, regardless of the test taker’s age, gender, or education.
Despite the noted decline, researchers did find IQ scores related to spatial reasoning, or the ability to visualize 3D objects and draw conclusions based on limited information, had increased during this time.
...Some proposed explanations for the Reverse Flynn Effect are:
Increased air pollution
Worsening nutrition and health standards
Worsening educational values and school systems
The proliferation of information systems (e.g., TV, the Internet, social media, etc.) creates less intelligently stimulating environments.
The phenomenon’s namesake, Dr. Flynn, has suggested the decrease in teenage IQ scores in the United Kingdom could be “due to youth culture having ‘stagnated’ or even dumbed down.
It’s worth noting again that IQ is far from the only area where we’re going backward.
There’s life expectancy:
Life expectancy at birth in the United States declined nearly a year from 2020 to 2021, according to new provisional data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). That decline – 77.0 to 76.1 years – took U.S. life expectancy at birth to its lowest level since 1996. The 0.9 year drop in life expectancy in 2021, along with a 1.8 year drop in 2020, was the biggest two-year decline in life expectancy since 1921-1923.
Testosterone has also been dipping hard.
It’s normal for testosterone levels to decline as you get older, but for some reason, there’s been a population-level drop with each generation, at least since the 70s [1–4]. This means, on average, Gen Zers and millennials have significantly lower testosterone levels compared to their predecessors.
Perhaps most concerningly, sperm quality has been rapidly dropping. Some people might poo-poo this, but it does not at least seem theoretically possible we’re going to hit a point in the future where most men are sterile:
In the last 50 years, average human sperm concentrations dropped by 51.6 percent, and total sperm counts dropped by 62.3 percent, according to a study published last week in the journal Human Reproduction Update.
The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 223 papers published between 1973 and 2018. The studies analyzed sperm samples of a combined 57,000 men across 53 countries, writes Euronews Next’s Natalie Huet.
One other area of concern that could be related is the rapidly increasing obesity rates:
In what is deemed the “most comprehensive global study to date,” researchers have found that over the past 3 decades, there has been a “startling” increase in rates of obesity worldwide, with no significant decline in any country.
Could the dip in IQ be related to these issues? Absolutely. There are two possibilities that immediately come to mind.
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The first is that we have a factor or collection of factors that are impacting our testosterone, sperm count, IQ, obesity levels, and PERHAPS life expectancy. The second is that we have a factor or collection of factors that are causing a dramatic increase in obesity and that is responsible for everything else. Obesity certainly has an impact on testosterone levels, sperm quality, and life expectancy. While the results of studies on IQ have been mixed, it is certainly POSSIBLE that the inflammation and other deleterious effects on the body caused by obesity COULD BE having a negative impact on IQ.
Of course, while you certainly can’t discount that possibility, it could also be that the Internet is making us stupider. Now, you might think that’s unlikely because specialized knowledge is far easier to acquire than it has ever been in human history. Have a niche subject you want to learn more about? You will likely be able to quickly and easily find videos discussing it in detail on YouTube. Have an obscure question? A search engine or ChatGPT can probably give you details in short order. So, how could the Internet be making us stupider?
Well, first of all, keep in mind that the Internet has a huge negative impact on the attention spans of many people. Watch videos on MTV or even with some of the higher-end influencers on YouTube and you will notice that they usually change the shot roughly every 3 seconds or so, if not faster. If you want to see someone who’s good at it, watch this video by Yungblud and pay attention both to the amount of visual stimulation and how often they change the framing of the shots:
This one from Jack Harlow is even faster:
The problem with short attention spans is that they lead to a very shallow level of knowledge. A significant portion of the population today doesn’t know much more about most things than what they’ve gleaned from memes, bumper stickers, slogans, and biased headlines of articles. Unfortunately, that’s just not enough to really know what you’re talking about.
Furthermore, we may have all of mankind’s knowledge at our fingertips, but most of us aren’t using the Internet to study quantum physics, we’re using the Internet as an entertaining distraction. We go to Instagram, “Ooh, pretty pictures,” TikTok, “Haha, look at her dance,” Facebook, “What is my grandmother doing?,” Twitter “Look at that sick burn,” and even news sites, “Other side does worst thing ever! You should be shocked and angry… no, EVEN MORE shocked and angry than that,” etc., etc. Intellectually, most of this stuff is the equivalent of older generations playing marbles or kick the can, but we spend much more time doing it because it’s so addictive.
Certainly, there are other possibilities beyond these. For example, some groups score higher than others on IQ tests. If you demographically replace a higher IQ group with a lower one, it’s going to impact scores. Maybe schools improved, reached an apex, and then started to decline. Perhaps our society simply values intelligent Americans less today than we did in past generations and many people don’t see the point of putting in the effort. Heck, maybe the stupid people are even just outbreeding the smart people like we saw in Idiocracy.
We have people living their lives in terror of the climate being warmer than it is today 100 years in the future, but our whole species is being degraded today and people just shrug their shoulders. Stupid is more likely to kill us than global warming and if we put in the time and research, there’s no reason we can’t pin down what’s causing this and fix it. The world is full of trivial concerns, but this is not one of them and we should start treating it that way.