Do You Need to Have a High IQ to Be a Success text background word cloud concept

New research shows a significant reversal of a well-established effect observed in IQ scores. Post World War II, IQ scores across the world have until recently shown a steady increase of three percentage points every decade. This phenomenon, dubbed the Flynn Effect, went against the fairly fixed view of what IQ measured.  While of course it literally measures the score achieved on IQ tests, it has been taken to correlate with intelligence in some degree, with problem-solving ability, and with speed of computation.

Scientists put the rise in IQ down to better teaching, nutrition, healthcare and even artificial lighting, suggesting that improvements in these factors led people to achieve their ‘latent’ IQ levels, unhindered by environmental constraints.  This has taken a blow with new research that shows IQ scores in steady decline.  The generation born in 1975 and their successors, are scoring lower than their predecessors.

“Take 14-year-olds in Britain. What 25% could do back in 1994, now only 5% can do,” Shayer added, citing maths and science tests. (Michael Shayer, is a co-author of an international report published last year).  Ole Rogeberg and Bernt Bratsberg, of the Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research in Oslo, have published data that showed men born in 1991 scored an average 5 points below those born in 1975.

Some are alarmed by this trend, pointing out that humanity depends for its progress and even its survival on its problem-solving ability to deal with both internal trends such as rising longevity, and external shocks such as possible geophysical changes. 

Of course, some claim that IQ itself is a flawed concept, taking insufficient account of cultural factors.  But against this is set the experience of those working in the field, who use ‘culture-fair’ tests, and who cite data showing that higher IQs correlate in general with higher salaries, higher qualifications, and most of what are normally judged to be ‘success’ indicators. They point out that the single best predictor of high IQ in a person is an assessment by those already known to have high IQs.  It takes one to know one.

Does it matter?  Some say it does not, claiming that personality in political and business leaders, for example, outweighs their problem-solving ability.  They suggest that leaders of the calibre of Jeremy Corbyn snd Diane Abbott, both under-achievers in the IQ stakes, need more empathy than intelligence.  Others suggest that those with lower IQs are less likely to get things right.

Those who feel more comfortable with doomsday scenarios point to what they see as a degradation of human abilities, with the parallel rise in artificial intelligence, making us all less capable of meeting the challenges posed by the latter.  Others suggest that the machines can take the strain if, indeed, our own abilities are declining.  Those at ease with science-fiction scenarios suggest that our rising ability at genetic modification will enable us to halt and reverse any decline.

Those at the top end of the IQ charts regret that the population at large is less able to spot the flawed thinking that presents itself so obviously to themselves. Life at the top was always lonely, and they regret it seems to be becoming lonelier.  Given that governments will be more prone to error in future, some at the top want it to be responsible for as little as possible, to reduce the impact that its inevitable mistakes will have on their own lives.

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  1. There is another point here, which the ‘culture-fair’ testers and other liberal types don’t want to acknowledge, that those of the melanin-enriched members of our community have (on average), far lower IQ’s than the Anglo-Saxon types and in turn they are beaten by the Asians.

    Thus as the West becomes more “culturally enriched”, we as a nation get stupider.

    The mindless garbage pumped out on TV and across the Interwebs doesn’t help either.

  2. I’m sure that Corbyn is, and always has been, as thick as two short planks nailed together at both ends (and not half as useful, as my dad always added) – as two grade Es, despite attending a decent public school, and a failure to complete a pretend degree course at some fourth rate technical college amply demonstrate. But the Abbotamus got top A-levels and read history at Cambridge, where has that gone? (I assume she must have been repeatedly dropped on her head since graduation.)

  3. These factoids resemble factoids we see all the time, claiming to document not the decline of the human race but the nonperformance of the government schools, and that is one of the first places I’d look for answers.

    Also, willful changes to the population base. The US is recuiting new permanent residents not on the basis of excellence but of pitiability (refugee/family reunification/excuse-making). IQ purports to measure problem-solving ability. That is not what we want, but the ability to attend picket marches in favor of higher benefit levels. Like most countries, we do grant permanent residency for a million dollars and creating a handful of jobs, but that is controversial any time new attention is called to it. (Sell our citizenship?) And we have a new tolerance for people playing pretend games, so if you want to pretend to be an engineer but can’t do math, who wants to be a Hater?

    In summary: Nobody cares. Though they should. Richard’s essay includes an overview of the self-doubt that has made it more acceptable to underperform. Indeed, the better our machines get, and the more acceptable it becomes not to think, the easier it will be to manipulate us, for Jeff Bezos or Big Brother.

  4. “Take 14-year-olds in Britain. What 25% could do back in 1994,”…

    have a 60/40 chance of going to university (20% of 14-year-olds in 1994 went to uni four years later)

    …”now only 5% can do”

    So, 3% of today’s 14-year-olds get to university? Something wrong with those sums there.

  5. Well… Given that an IQ test for the biggest part is not so much a test of problem solving, but actually a test of pattern recognition, the results aren’t that shocking.
    IQ test results are *heavily* influenced by education level, and the kind of education that was received. People with a proper old-fashioned education will *always* score better in an IQ test than, for instance those who had a curriculum featuring basket weaving and interpretive dance. Simply because the old-fashioned sort required you to have a fair amount of knowledge in scope and depth on a range of subjects, whether they interested you or not. Rote learning has its purposes, as the higher Asian average scores show. Or the lower scores in Africa.. Can’t expect a farmboy with just basic primary schooling to recognise, say, Fibonacci sequences. ( Or if they do with that level of basic training, you damn well get them a scholarship…)

    Given that quality and type of eduation plays a very significant factor in the outcome of an IQ score, the hint why these scores are falling steadily is already in the article… Note the year when the downward trend started. This is also roughly the period when the “alternative schools” became a Thing. And the …output… of those schools, in teachers and teaching concepts, have since then infiltrated the school system, all the way up to university level.

    You do the math….