I see a lot of incredibly stupid comments on social media and also hear them in person on occasion. It made me wonder if people are becoming less intelligent or if people have always been this ignorant, they just now have more avenues to showcase their stupidity because of the internet and myriad social channels.

While it’s probably a combination of the two, studies confirm that IQ levels are in fact dropping. It seems counterintuitive. Because of the internet, we now have more information at our fingertips than ever before. Maybe people feel that because so much information is readily available, they don’t need to learn or retain as much.

For decades, people were getting smarter, as measured by their IQ level. This was known as the Flynn effect. It was named after the researcher who discovered that average IQ scores had been rising about three points per decade since World War II. That all changed with people now in their 40s.

The drop in IQ is generally thought to have begun with those born in the mid-70s and has not reversed itself. Research shows the IQ scores of young people are now dropping by seven points every generation. Seven points is a lot, especially when the average IQ score in the United States is 98, according to World Population Review. Singapore and Hong Kong have the highest scores at 108.

An analysis of about 730,000 IQ tests by researchers in Norway a couple years ago is one study that documented the lowering of intelligence levels. Other studies have shown similar results.

Scientists point the finger, in part, at the difference in the way math and languages are taught in schools. Other possible culprits include poorer education systems, ubiquitous technologies that consume peoples’ attention, and a change in diets and nutrition — people are eating less fish, and fish makes people smarter. One study found that kids who eat fish at least once a week scored 4.8 points higher on IQ tests.

Adding to the problem of dropping intelligence levels is the fact that people who are not very smart actually think they are. We all know people who fit this description. Known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after the psychologists who documented it, in scientific speak it’s a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their knowledge or ability.

This is why, for example, people who aren’t good in math think they are. By contrast, people who do have advanced math skills say they’re not good in math. That’s because the more people know, the more they realize how much there is to learn.

It can be argued that IQ scores are not a predictor of success or happiness in life, and therefore not truly meaningful. However, on a broad scale, the average IQ score of a country’s population has been linked to the country’s economic growth and innovation, so intellect does have a value.

It’s possible that the studies showing lower IQ scores are flawed because they used too small of a test pool or that IQ tests haven’t been updated to measure people’s current intelligence. But I think the studies are reflecting the sad reality that our collective intellect is dropping.

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.


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