Michael Woodley, the co-author, claims that people in Victorian times were quicker, smarter, and more creative than we are.
Using response times as an indicator of general intelligence he found these had slowed down by 14% since 1889.
Then, average response times for men were 183 ms and 187 ms for women. Now they are 250 ms for men and 227 ms for women.
The researchers suggest that this means there has been a decline in creativity and innovation since Victorian times and said; “These findings strongly indicate that the Victorians were substantially cleverer than modern Western populations”.
It wasn’t possible to compare IQ scores because of different levels of education, health and nutrition so visual response times were used instead as these have a large correlation with intelligence.
Woodley thinks that our declining intelligence is a result of a reverse in natural selection as clever people have fewer children than in previous times.
These finding fly in the face of the Flynn effect – a steady increase in measured intelligence over time.
The authors, as far as I know from the news article, make no comment about the difference in response times between men and women, both then and now, which, assuming the differences are statistically significant, would imply that men are more intelligent than women – an argument that has been made before but now generally refuted. Nor about the politically sensitive issue of immigration and whether increases in immigration with larger families from poorer countries has contributed to the decline.
Intelligence is notoriously difficult to define and measure but this study contributes to that debate.
Typically IQ testing has shown differences between men and women – and more controversially between races.
James Flynn, a Professor in New Zealand, has claimed that our IQ scores are increasing every ten years by about 3%, and this has been called the “Flynn effect”.
The “Flynn Effect” means that modern Europeans are 30 points smarter than those who lived a century ago and that IQ is not (wholly) genetic as it can be improved.
Flynn’s latest research showed that whereas women’s scores had previously lagged 5 points behind men’s the differences are now trivial and in New Zealand, Argentina, and Estonia women scored slightly higher than men.
Flynn puts this down to the impact of modern living, women being less disadvantaged than they were in the past, and having jobs that make more cognitive demands.
I’ve posted on women and intelligence before, how women can do worse at problem solving when in teams and yet adding women to teams can raise the group IQ levels.
Intelligence testing is not without its critics and is not a perfect science. See: “How do you know how intelligent you are?”