Are people stupider today or smarter?

In an earlier post on a new Antennagate, the commenters got into a discussion about how the current generation is more stupid than previous ones, being unable to do its multiplication tables, etc.

I guess he never heard of the Flynn effect. Standardized tests have to be re-calibrated and renormalized every so often. Why? Because people do better on them as time goes on – the average score goes up.

A test where the mean is standardized at 100 will result in a mean of 110 after about 30 years. So the tests are renormalized, since, by definition 100 is average.

So, by these tests, an average person from 1950 who took today’s test would get a score of 80 and an average person today would be 110 in 1950. If your grandfather took the today’s test back in the 30s or so, he would have be viewed as needing special education.

Other measures of cognitive function have seen similar increases.

Now most of these changes are seen in the low end of the curve. That is, people from the high end are not getting seeing large increases so much as people at the low end are. Thus the average goes up.

There are a lot of explanations about why this is happening but one thing is for certain – these results do not support the hypothesis that people are getting stupider.

This actually opens up the discussion about what is intelligence and what the metrics for it should be. Because, as the comments tries to advocate, a smaller vocabulary means that someone is stupider. I would not say that is obvious. First, it is not obvious that the vocabularies are really different or that the methods that were used to examine that accurately captured the full vocabulary usage of the population.

Reality is much more complex than simply People are more stupid today. Some interesting recent work indicates that young people who have been playing video games, texting and surfing the internet their entire lives have brains that are wired quite differently than previous generations – not stupid just different.



2 thoughts on “Are people stupider today or smarter?

  1. Wired differently? Is that a good thing? The whole point of memorizing was to train the mind. So now minds are being trained by sight. Good, bad, indifferent? Who knows. In the meantime, the “experts” will continue to try to dumb down people and, in some cases, succeed. And since the “educators” do not remember and always condemn the past, history will repeat itself.

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