Intelligence in UK declining?

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Today’s London Sunday Times (January 29) has an article in the Education section on new research which claims that British children’s ‘intelligence’ has declined dramatically in the last 30 years. If the link works, the article is here.

The research is by Profs. Adey and Shayer of King’s College London. Adey claims, based on a sample of 25,000 children, that ‘the intelligence of 11-year-olds has fallen by three years’ worth in the past two decades’.

Naturally this is of interest in the context of the Flynn Effect – the long term trend of rising IQ scores. Several recent reports suggest that the Flynn Effect has halted or gone into reverse.

I haven’t been able to find any further details of the research than those in the ST article, and I suggest a need for caution. The tests used do not appear to be standard IQ tests but rather tests of ‘scientific reasoning’, which combine general intelligence (g) and more specific mathematical and physical concepts. In IQ terms, a fall of 3 years in average mental age at chronological age 11 would be massive: if we suppose the baseline 30 years ago is IQ = MA/CA = 11/11 x 100 = 100, the new IQ would be MA/CA = 8/11 x 100 = approx. 73. I don’t think mean IQ can possibly have fallen by 27 points in 30 years! The school at King’s College is also known for unorthodox views on the nature of intelligence, including the belief that ‘thinking skills’ can be radically improved by fairly small amounts of direct ‘thinking’ teaching.

I also note that there is no mention of the ethnic composition of the samples, which must certainly have changed in the last 30 years. However, in IQ terms the fall is far too large to be explained by compositional changes of this kind.

[Added: The last point should be sufficiently self-evident, but let me expand on it for the benefit of the innumerate. In 1975 the proportion of non-whites at age 11 in Britain was around 5%. In 2005 it was around 15%. (These are very rough figures, but good enough for the present purpose.) Let us suppose that in 1975 the mean 'intelligence' of white 11-year-olds, by standard IQ tests or any other valid instrument, was 100, while that of non-whites was 85. This is about the size of the black-white differential in the US, or the difference between whites and the offspring of recent non-white immigrants in European countries. It probably overstates the differential between whites and non-whites in Britain, since non-whites in Britain include large numbers of Indians and other high-achieving groups. Assume that white and non-white IQ is unchanged between 1975 and 2005. These assumptions gives us mean population IQ of 99.25 in 1975 and 97.75 in 2005 - a fall of less than 2 percentage points. This is far too small to account for the kind of decline reported by Adey and Shayer. To explain such a large decline by changes in the composition of the population, either the magnitude of the compositional change, or the differential between the different components, or both, must be much larger than is at all credible.]

Despite these reservations, this is clearly interesting research, and I will try to follow it up.

Added: I found a more informative account of the research in the Guardian here. The full report will be published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology next year.

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24 Comments

  1. This is consistent with the predictions based on immigration trends. Third world people immigrating to the first world tend to reduce mean population intelligence. Eventually the effect is measurable. Later, the effect is actually measured (PC latency).

  2. One interesting tidbit from the article is the speculation that the decline in outdoor play among children may be contributing to this intelligence decline.

  3. This is consistent with the predictions based on immigration trends. Third world people immigrating to the first world tend to reduce mean population intelligence. 
     
    and 
     
    The last point should be sufficiently self-evident, but let me expand on it for the benefit of the innumerate 
     
    rich and ironic (in light of comments in regards to intelligence :)

  4. Hmmm…. what’s changed over the last thirty years… aw, yes, the rise of day care and the feminist movement.

  5. How are the UK immigration and birthrate patterns dramatically different from the US patterns? We don’t seem to suffering those levels of decline – at least using our tests. The sort of tests the UK people are using may hold the key- ”real life” skills as opposed to more familiar tests we use to measure ”g-level” (SATs, etc.). 
     
    Maybe these are just skills that we are just not naturally picking up as much anymore (as a part of growing up) – as a consequence of modern, urban life. Still these skills, like math or a foreign language can still be taught ??remedially?? at an older age. 
     
    Also consider that there may be many ”urban skills” that youngsters are learning instead (and computer and home entertainment electronics skills). View it as a ??crowding out?? effect.

  6. How true, Razib, and given the difference in birthrates of third world immigrants vs. birthrates of indigenous europeans, one can only expect this dysgenic trend to continue. 
     
    You know, saying that findings of a research paper are consistent with a particular theory, is not the same as saying the theory explains the results of the research paper. Basic logic for the illogerati. 
    :-)

  7. This is an amazing result and leads me to question the study design. So further work will determine if we’re looking at bad research or good research. 
     
    If these results are accurate, then I’d first cast my eye to differential fecundity across SES strata. As David pointed out the racial component effect is too small to account for these results, though having less intelligent people having more sub 100 IQ children and the higher IQ classes having only one child or none at all will, over a generation have some impact, but for the effect to be this large is quite startling. Also, what is the effect of laddism and the lads now passing onto their kids the values of laddism?

  8. This is an amazing result and leads me to question the study design.  
     
    the study has to be bullshit. david referenced the “sunday times,” remember my maxim: beware of bad news born by british newspapers :) 
     
     
    You know, saying that findings of a research paper are consistent with a particular theory, is not the same as saying the theory explains the results of the research paper. Basic logic for the illogerati. 
     
     
    your comment added no explanatory value. why add it in the first place? i don’t like noise on this blog, stick to the facts, there is a nearly infinite sample space (or at least do some basic calculations of proportions, it is simply arithmetically impossible for immigration to cause this “drop” in IQ).

  9. Am I alone in wondering (as the British newspapers often enquire) about the import of the fact that the research leader is about to retire? Could it be that such appalling frankness comes more easily from someone who doesn’t need a next research grant? I must say, the work reminds me of Robert Conquest’s immortal “I told you so, you fucking fools”.

  10. I suspect something of significance is being measured in the study, but I doubt that it’s usefully construed as “intelligence.” Were Galileo’s contemporaries more stupid than posters on this forum because they thought heavier weights should fall faster? Were Archimedes’ contemporaries all morons because they weren’t familiar with Archimedes’ principle? To think so is to conflate ignorance with stupidity. 
     
    Conflating ignorance with stupidity isn’t stupid unless one keeps doing it in spite of appropriate education.

  11. I agree with Tangoman. Obviously the results of this study as stated in IQ terms are absurd. Although it is a “junk” study, it raises questions that can only be answered by further research. 
     
    The dysgenic effect of immigration, and particularly of more rapid procreation of immigrants and the tendency of immigrants to attract more immigrants from family, as new brides, etc. has not truly been studied.  
     
    Throw away studies are commonly used to suggest hypotheses for more lengthy, detailed, and expensive studies.

  12. While disgenic or eugenic effects from immigration are possible, I strongly suspect that such effects are swamped by “discultural” and “eucultural” phenomena, some of which may have a causal relationship to immigration. 
     
    Jared Diamond starts his excellent book, “Guns, Germs and Steel,” from his personal observation that native New Guineans are, if anything, smarter on the average than people from the West. Dogs aren’t smarter than wolves. 
     
    The Anglo-American economic system is structurally adapted to a large economic underclass. If only Downs Syndrome were just a little bit more viable, so many problems could be solved…

  13. The Anglo-American economic system is structurally adapted to a large economic underclass. If only Downs Syndrome were just a little bit more viable, so many problems could be solved.. 
     
    Actually, given the stark reality of the IQ bell curve, every economic system must take into account those below the mean IQ. Mean IQ is near 100 in most anglospheric nations–contrast that with mean IQs in the 70s for Subsaharan Africa, and mean IQs in the 80s in most of the third world.  
     
    Now, those nations with mean IQs below 90 are the ones most definitely “structurally adapted to a large economic underclass.” How could they possibly avoid such adaptation? 
     
    As to the level of excellence of Jared Diamond’s GGS, the jury is still out.

  14. One must not underestimate the effect of social policy.The policy of social inclusion in the Europe,by giving those in lower social classes financial benefits does not make them more intelligent.Instead they use the increased income to have larger families,where as the people with higher IQ/education tend to have smaller families.Hence you have the effect of low intelligent ,increasing income families having more offspring than high IQ increasing income families.Hence the average IQ will decline in most of Europe.

  15. I suspect that IQ, along with height, is strongly influenced by maternal health/nutrition over generations. 
     
    It’s simplistic at best to conflate adaptation of our economy to an underclass to the inevitability of a low side to a bell curve. I seriously doubt that the Normans were smarter than the Anglo-Saxons they conquered and dominated. They did have a combination of luck and superior military organization. Arguably, this superior military organization is based on trainability and aggressiveness rather than intelligence per se. 
     
    Trainability is enhanced by a sort of mental castration. This is cultural.

  16. “Trainability is enhanced by a sort of mental castration.” 
     
    This is correct; it’s just discouraging how many people fail to realize this.

  17. I still can’t make much sense of these results. It’s a great pity that the researchers don’t seem to have used standard IQ tests (WISC, Ravens, or whatever) as a check on the validity of their special ‘scientific reasoning’ tests. 
     
    Or maybe they did, and there will be something about this in the full paper.

  18. Ruschkov, is it your contention that poverty is the consequence of stupidity, or is it that a stratified class structure is the consequence of stupidity? Or are you talking about vulnerability to colonial exploitation?

  19. Mark that’s an interesting question. If I can take a stab, I’d say it’s pretty obvious that one major cause of poverty in a prosperous society with moderate social mobility is stupidity. Stupid people can’t help it, it’s statistical and it’s genetic too, and can be caused by stupid mothers that don’t take care of themselves. In the same way it’s pretty obvious that in societies with social mobility stratification can pretty easy go along roughly intelligence gradient.  
    I’m guessing that colonial exploitation is a non sequitur meaning to distract these that distract easy. 
    If people are given lots of opportunity they’re going to stratify according to ability. Ability means a lot of different things, but one thing is intellignet level.

  20. Abed, let me touch on your last point first. While I won’t pretend to be above rhetorical gimmicks, that’s not my intent here. The thought behind Ruschkov’s words is ambiguous to me; I don’t want to frame him into a false dichotomy, I’d just like him to clarify. 
     
    However, I’m perfectly happy to work off of your response instead. 
     
    For the sake of discussion, let’s conceptualize the economy as a game of musical chairs, where the underclass is made up of the people without chairs. If there are more chairs than butts, there isn’t an underclass. If the ratio of chairs to butts is less than 1 and shrinking, then the underclass will grow in proportion. 
     
    Now let’s also consider the conditions on the floor. Obviously the chairless can be more or less comfortable, depending. 
     
    In principle, the chair to butt ratio and the floor conditions are not determined by the intellectual assets of the people in this game. I agree that stupid people are more likely to get the short end of the stick in a meritocracy, but that’s about as far as you can go. 
     
    The musical chairs metaphor is a severe simplification which arguably overemphasizes the advantage of incumbancy – only sitters get to keep playing. I’m not trying to wheel in any hidden premises. Nevertheless, incumbancy does OBVIOUSLY carry significant advantages in the real world. 
     
    The relative potency of merit vs. incumbancy as predictors who gets chairs can vary a great deal. 
     
    It’s nice to have cheap labor to do the scutwork. Smart cheap labor is even better than stupid cheap labor. 
     
    Do you think that the Spartans were a lot smarter than the helots? Do you think you are smart enough to win at no limit poker, playing against a billionaire who does the dealing? How steep and narrow can the “smart money” make the wealth/income curve without the thing toppling over?

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