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.