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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday's Psychology Trivia Answer: Who Is Dumber? Victorians or Google Searchers?

Take off the Dunce Cap*
Thought for the Day: This week we have been looking at what makes education work. We started with the debate over the time & energy spent on standardized testing raised by a poster on Sunday's Comic Strips.  Yesterday's Words of Wisdom were from Mary MacCracken encouraging educators to utilize sincere caring & find educational opportunities in all types of experiences. How will the internet & google searching impact on our intelligence?  The answer to today's trivia question may shed some light on the future of men & women's intelligence. On Tuesday's Psychology Trivia we asked:  
    Are we dumber than our Victorian ancestors? Who's IQ is higher? 
             a) Victorians
             b) People today

The answer is a. &, or b., depending on how you measure intelligence. A controversial study, by Dr. Jan te Niijenhuis & his colleagues, led me to ask this trivia question. Dr. Jan te Niijenhuis, a professor from the University of Amsterdam, found that all our technological advances & educational opportunities have not increased our IQ. In fact, according to his study, we have lost 14 IQ points since the Victorian Era. To measure such a shift, Dr. Jan te Niijenhuis analyzed the results of 14 intelligence studies conducted between 1884 to 2004. They used reaction time to measure a person’s mental processing speed as an indicator of general intelligence. One explanation they give for the decrease in general intelligence is related to the industrial revolution, the shift to cities & access to steady food supply. So, if we trust their findings, modern man is dumber than his or her Victorian ancestors.

Their findings are even more discouraging since they attribute the loss of IQ to women with higher IQ's having fewer children than women with lower intelligence. When searching for an image for this post, I felt uncomfortable choosing a girl in a dunce cap, but there were only cartoons or this photo to choose from. It would be sad to let this study's findings discourage women & girls from their their hard fought quest for knowledge, equal educational opportunities & advancement & make women feel guilty for having less children.

I prefer to see the decrease seen in IQ scores as a reflection of the methodology the researchers chose to measure intelligence. Since we no longer need to hunt for food, our reaction time is slower in modern times, but is that really an indication of lower intelligence? Other measures are better indicators of intelligence & problem solving skills necessary in modern times. When standardized tests of intelligence are used, the results are significantly different.

**Perhaps Victorians should wear the Dunce cap
It does not surprise me that a study conducted by James Flynn found a steady rise in IQ scores around the world since the 1940's. When any standardized IQ test, like the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), is used to measure intelligence, they consistently find an 18 point increase in IQ since 1949 (3 points per decade). Because of this rise, called the Flynn Effect, IQ tests need to be revised & re-standardized. This would suggest that intelligence is increasing, not decreasing, in our era thanks to better education, nutrition & technological advances. Perhaps, the rise in the numbers of educated women & working mothers since World War II, is actually contributing to a well documented rise in IQ. Therefore, educated mothers don't need to feel guilty for working or having less children & girls should put the dunce cap on their Victorian ancestors' heads, since women's educational advances may play a role in the rise in intelligence in the modern world.

Which study do you think is more accurate? Are we dumber than our Victorian ancestors?

The jury is still out on how computers & the internet will impact on IQ. What skills will our children need in the future? Some people worry that memory skills will decrease, since computers & google searches will replace our memory. How important are standardized tests & memorized knowledge in a world where information is at our fingertips in seconds? Should problem solving, creativity & learning how to analyze information be the goals of education? What are your thoughts?

*Photo from
* Take Off the Dunce Cap 'untitled' http-/ 
** 'Queen Victoria' http-/

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