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(This is the Museum of Victorian Science. Because SCIENCE!! But back to the topic at hand…)

The answer to the above question is apparently so, thanks to an investigative study (abstract and select data points linked here) by the scientific journal Intelligence. Their research indicates that the intelligence levels of the average individual has suffered a substantial drop in IQ points from the late 1800’s until now. Specifically, they calculate a drop of 14.1 points between 1889 and 2004, or -1.23 IQ points per decade. WOW, folks. 

To acquire this set of data, scientists measured visual reaction times with this:

Yeah, this thing. This is a Hipp chronoscope, which is used to measure short intervals of time with an accuracy of 1/1,000th of a second. According to Huff-Po,   “Hipp chronoscopes were used to measure reaction time in experimental psychology labs in the late 19th Century.” Basically, you gauge how long it takes for the individual to press a button on this machine in response to a stimulus. The resulting reaction time is apparently scientifically representative of a persons mental processing speed.  The downward trend in IQ points was subsequently identified by comparing reaction times between data sets taken in the 1800’s against those in more recent decades. This amounted to about 183 milliseconds to ~250ms in men, and from 187ms to ~260ms in women.

If this is the case, how do we account for this decline in reaction time? What factors have contributed to this lessening of mental acuity and speed? Can we blame this on Justin Bieber, Honey Boo-Boo, or the Kardashians?

Dr. Michael Woodley, who led the study, attributes this decline to highly intelligent individuals having less children than their less intelligent counterparts. Other scientists relate it to the fact that as individuals collected into increasingly complex societies, the need for genius in order to survive necessarily decreased as larger numbers of individuals in communities made up for any intellectual downfalls and lapses in judgement through sheer supportive numbers.

What say you, Dear Reader? Is human intelligence decreasing in direct opposition to the increase in the complexities of modern life and the advancements of modern technology? Has community and “civilized” life made us less accountable for our own intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity, thus promoting intellectual laziness and compliance?  Is visual reaction time to a stimulus truly the only reasonable means to quantify human intelligence? Critical thinking is sexy so take it to the comments!

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