Why are we getting dumber and dumber?

28 Mar, 2019 at 21:20 | Posted in Education & School | 18 Comments

Human ñ business evolution

It probably shouldn’t worry us if some pocket of the population saw a decline in IQ as things like education and diet affect IQ and these factors can vary from one group or time to another. But according to this new study it doesn’t appear to be some small segment of the population whose IQ is going down. It appears to be the entire nation of Norway.

When scientists from the Norway’s Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research analyzed some 730,000 IQ tests given to Norwegian men before their compulsory military service from 1970 to 2009, they found that average IQ scores were actually sinking. And not just by some miniscule amount. Each generation of Norwegian men appear to be getting around seven IQ points dumber.  

That’s pretty horrifying news for fans of progress, but it also begs one incredibly important question: Why? What’s causing IQ scores to start heading in the wrong direction?

Some have proposed that our tech obsession might be to blame, but as the decline started in the 1970s, well before everyone spent their days staring at screens, that can’t be the whole story.

Other proposed explanations are unhealthy modern diets, increasingly trashy media, or a decline in the quality of schooling or the prevalence of reading 

The bottom line, however, is that the cause of the decline remains a mystery. Whatever it turns out to be, however, we should all probably start worrying about what our sedentary, screen addicted, junk food-munching lifestyles might be doing to our brains.

Jessica Stillman


  1. Tests measuring “intelligence” — and most especially tests created specifically for mass administration as those given to Norway’s military service candidates must be — are not usually very specific with regard to what exactly they are measuring.
    Aside from the measuring familiarity with the conventions of the test itself, the largest issue with practical implications for scoring is the motivation of the taker of the test. Why does the test taker make an effort, if she does, and to what end? Does effort matter to the score? Almost certainly it does. But, in what direction does the test taker’s motivation aim?
    If motivation can be gainsaid, then general intelligence testing is a measure of general fitness. It would be like trying to measure how beautiful a person is physically. It is not measuring a trait, so much as a reflection of the synergy of good genes, good nutrition, good education, and good luck in avoiding injury from the hazards of life, all coming together.
    In the U.S. recently, several measures of general health have been declining. The average height of adults has been declining for some time. Life expectancy has declined three years running. It would be strange indeed if intelligence was not declining as well. But, it is shocking that Norway, prosperous and egalitarian, would experience a decline. Still, I would like questions about motivation answered.

  2. SR P1 hade förr ett program där de tog in någon intressant person som de samtalade med. Kommer inte ihåg vad det hette, men en som fastnade var en advokat som då var den mest efterfrågade av landets sk kåkfarare. Ett okänt namn för allmänheten. Detta var på 90-talet.
    Han hade en rad intressanta synpunkter, bl.a. noterade han att folk blev dummare och dummare. Hans förklaring var att folk blev allt mer ointresserade av sin egen och samhällets utveckling. Som han sa på 50 o 60-talet förkovrade folk sig, läste böcker, gick på ty Hermods och andra utbildningar som var seriösa. Nu (90-tal) satt de och glodde på fördummande kabel o satellit-kanaler.
    En generalisering förstås men med olika sorters åtstramningar som kom i den svenska politiken från 70-talet blev det förstås allt mer ointressant att förkovra sig om vem som helst kan se att det blivit ”naturgivet” att en andel av de arbetsföra ska vara ”utslagna” och att ingen utbildning i världen kommer att ändra på makroläget för detta.

    Som nu, typ Magdalena A m.fl. ”insatta” pratar ena dan om att då primärt invandrare i utanförskapet ska in men sen agerar på att NAIRU troligen säger att vi i stort sett har full sysselsättning på 7% öppen arbetslöshet (dold och undersysselsättning oräknat) och ekonomin måste bromsas.
    Här kan man se en annan förändring i det politiska landskapet, förr brukade borgarnas stora nummer när de skulle försöka besegra S-regimer vara just den dolda arbetslösheten och undersysselsättning. Som doldes av S-regimers friserade statistik. Som bortblåst i de två senaste valrörelserna.

  3. Having succeeded very well once with an IQ test (1969, getting among the four highest percent of secondary school students), I think that I may be in my right to debunk the whole business.

    IQ tests measure ability to go through school, nothing else. It was invented by one French psychologist, Alfred Binet, in 1908 for judging if children were prepared for school. It should never have left that use. Intelligence is so much more than perparedness for schooling. An illiterate street kid might be much more intelligent than a university student, in terms of ability of getting along, but his performance with a Stanford-Binet test is probably much worse than the student’s. The student is school adjusted, hence skilled with IQ test issues, while the street kid is not.

    Concerning the Norwegian case, maybe school is not considered to be so important anymore. You learn so much in other places, and what you learn at school seems to be so peripheral to your interests. I don’t claim that this is a true idea, but perhaps it is what Norwegians think?

    • Thanks you Jan, that was succinct and so true. I don’t know how applies to the Norwegian case, but it sure rings true in my case.

      By such tests I would be a failure. I was severely dyslexic as a young child. It caused great pain as this was a time when the education system in the US had not a clue what was going on. I was humiliated in the classroom because of my disability.

      But just because I couldn’t perform as expected in school didn’t mean my mind was not active. By sixteen I had already read widely in philosophy, religion, and history of science. I overcame my reading disability by the shear joy of learning. At seventeen I skipped high school (actually, I dropped out when the principle, looking at my dismal performance on standard tests, asked if I really wanted to be there, to which I replied, “Hell no!”) I was bored.

      At seventeen I went to community college and excelled with a 4.0 (not that GPAs mean a lot). From there my education took off but I always suffered from sever test anxiety and struggled in such environments. I went to become an accountant, married a brilliant tiger mom (who I mellowed a bit), then trained myself in software engineering and became a developer at a major software company, started my own technology company that took our family around the world, raised two daughters and instilled in them the shear joy of learning for the sake of learning, created and ran startups, and now at 60 learning Japanese all over again and considering becoming an ordained Shin Buddhist monk (I am studied comparative religion most of my life and have become an expert in the Pure Land tradition). First, though, I want to get in shape and cycle the length of Japan for the shear experience of it following the path of a famous wandering monk Bassho and learn to write Haiku as I go. My wife looks at me like I am crazy and just says, Gambate!

      Yet, by some IQ test I am an idiot. Yes, I know I lack some skills. But the human mind and personality is a powerful thing able to compensate for defects in ways we don’t even understand yet. I told my daughters, who are both studying/working in neuroscience/medicine I would donate my brain to them so they could find out why they have such a weird dad 😉

  4. Definitely……..I’m feeling dumber and dummer by the day.

  5. Cretinism is directly caused by insufficient dietary iodine. We used to put iodine in salt but now only some salt is iodized. Vitamin K2 is produced by free ranging chickens and beef. Now both are feed lot fed on corn. K2 is terribly important developmentally. Vitamin D3 is produced by photo conversion in the skin by UV radiation. We get a little burned and make excess in summer, store the D3 in fat, and use the stores all winter. At least we used to. Now we wear sunscreen all summer so we don’t get burned. D3 insufficiency is a pandemic world wide. There are many such stories of our modern hubris.

  6. Japan ranks near the top in math scores up until around middle (need to check data here) school. Things go down hill from there. Any takers as to why?

    • BTW, the reason is already in the Toyota research.

    • OK, so what’s the punchline?
      Why? Inquiring minds want to know.

      • DIMITRI: If Atlas holds up the world, what holds up Atlas?
        TASSO: Atlas stands on the back of a turtle. DIMITRI: But what does the turtle stand on? TASSO: Another turtle.
        DIMITRI: And what does that turtle stand on? TASSO: My dear Dimitri, it’s turtles all the way down! (Cathcart, Thomas. Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar. . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes (Kindle Locations 45-51). ABRAMS. Kindle Edition.)

        It’s culture all the way down!

        At least as far as this specific issue goes, it is culture (nurture) that determines that talent (nature) gets leveled to the lowest common denomenator.

        In Japanese society there is no room (generally) for execeptionally gifted childen after a certain point. There is a saying, the nail sticking up gets pounded down. There is a form of discipline to conform to the group norms in school and society, so being outspoken, gifted student (or employee), can make one stand out and get labeled as “difficult.” The lowest common denominatory determines the groups pace (and sometimes limit progress). My wife, who is Japanese, told me she used to fake being sick so she could study on her own and be more efficient. Many who can go to the states or elsewhere and study so they can excel.

        The last time we lived in Japan we had two small children (this time we are empty nesters!), three and seven. The seven year old had skipped grades, which is unheard of in Japan as that would immediately turn the child into a tall nail sticking up and make them a target. We held her back and allowed her to study the same material as the previous year in the US but in Japanese since we put her directly into Japanese public school.

        Despite her handicap within a year she was fluent in Japanese and excelling again, but being like her mom, she pushed back and was destermined to continue exelling. Made for some pretty funny encounters (and serious ones as she was the target of bullying) along the way.

        They know this and are determined to change it. Time will tell how much that can be done. The younger generation is ready for change, that is for sure.

  7. I’d put money on it being ​small particle air pollution from fossil fuels.

  8. Its called “dumbing down”. Look it up.

  9. ” great potential exists …” in what might be called the middle class or average when exposed to the right things.

  10. Interesting Lars. I have a skeptical side about IQ tests.* It is the old nurture vs. nature debate. I think nurture plays a far bigger role in what someone does with their intellectual life than nature. Yes, there must be a foundation there, but great potential exists

    But I completely agree “we should all probably start worrying about what our sedentary, screen addicted, junk food-munching lifestyles might be doing to our brains.” Especially in light of the scientific findings in the field of epigenetics are telling us; that these bad habits in mind and body can be passed on to our children and grandchildren epigenetically.

    One habit that irritates me (and I have observed around me) is people popping out their smart phones and watching mindless cat videos for entertainment rather than actually talking to each other about life’s meanings and values and intellectual matters. The life of the mind, the inner life (http://a.co/7WEy24A), is like a garden; if you don’t tend it, weed it, fertilize it with truth, beauty, and goodness, it becomes overgrown with weeds and brambles unworthy of an advancing civilization.

    I especially find interesting the comment about reading (or lack thereof). At a young age I became a life-long reader and that passion has only grown with time. I always have on my beside a stack of books on some subject that my mind is curious about. It never tires me to learn new things, and I did everything in my power raising my two daughters to instill in them the love of learning for the shear joy of it. It seems to have worked as they are curious and love learning. They grew up in different cultures ranging from US (culture dead zone) to Tokyo to Amsterdam. They were always surrounded by different cultures (our family friends were always very diverse and multicultural as their parents were from an international marriage). I made a point of taking them to Buddhist temples and teaching them age appropriate Buddhism, same with Sikh & Muslim, and attended a 100 year old interfaith Christian-Muslim-Jewish (Three Amigos) church when living in Seattle when they were small children.

    I read them Sufi bedtime stories and used humor to teach them philosophy through humor (just as Sufis teach spiritual wisdom and insight through funny stories as too did Søren Kierkegaard.** Far more important than IQ tests is what we nurture at home, starting in the family, then schools, and finally as a society and civilization. At least that is my view from 60 years of looking back.

    * Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins (2010)
    by Denis R. Alexander (Editor), Ronald L. Numbers (Editor). Also see,

    In their textbooks as in their other publications, economists, like so many Progressive Era intellectuals, identified inferior heredity with low intelligence, illiteracy, vice (drinking, gambling, and prostitution), pauperism, race, ethnicity or national origins, and labor so unskilled as to be unable to command a minimum wage. Inferiority was also identified with gender.

    Leonard, Thomas C.. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era (p. 167). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

    ** Søren Kierkegaard took on the ecclesiastical pomposity, bourgeois fatness, and spiritual lethargy of his day. He served not only as a spy for God, but as a moral assassin. He shot his darts at smug, complacent churchgoers as fat geese that had forgotten how to fly. In contrast to a public that wanted no disturbance to their lives, his pseudonymous Johannes Climacus suggested, writing “pen in cheek,” that what “the world, confused simply by too much knowledge, needs is a Socrates.”22 Irony may lead to true edification; religious satire to genuine reform.

    Lindvall, Terry. God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert (Kindle Locations 234-238). NYU Press. Kindle Edition.

    Sorting out what’s good and bad is the province of ethics.
    It is also what keeps priests, pundits, and parents busy.
    Unfortunately, what keeps children and philosophers busy is
    asking the priests, pundits, and parents, “Why?”

    Cathcart, Thomas. Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar. . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes (Kindle Locations 832-834). ABRAMS. Kindle Edition.

    • “what “the world, confused simply by too much knowledge, needs is a Socrates.”’
      We can be like Socrates asking impudent questions of self-styled experts on the internet! Trolls are like gadflies …

      • DIMITRI: I’ve been thinking about your question, what does “good” mean, and I’ve got the answer—“good” is acting on a just principle.
        TASSO: By Zeus, Dimitri, you’re full of surprises—you’re starting to sound like a real philosopher. Just one last question: How do you determine just principles?
        DIMITRI: Du-uh! Just like everybody else. I learn them from my mom.
        TASSO (aside): Why does Socrates get all the “A” students? (Cathcart, Thomas. Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar. . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes (Kindle Locations 835-840). ABRAMS. Kindle Edition.)

        And then I read the “Just World Theory” in a enlightening history of economics book The Nobel Factor and learned economists must not have moms!

        • For some reason I was reminded of Socrates losing to the sophist Dionysodorus in the Euthydemus, when Dionysodorus used natural language examples to contradict the Law of Non-contradiction …
          In another post you said: “I want to get in shape and cycle the length of Japan for the shear experience of it following the path of a famous wandering monk Bassho”, which seems to me a worthy goal. I would like to study ancient Jain texts and inscriptions in stone throughout India … whether economists espousing full employment think that is a worthy pursuit or not.

          • I’m with your Robert. Ancient Jain texts would be a fascinating study.

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