A new study from researchers in Europe claims that the average IQ in Western nations dropped by a staggering 14.1 points over the past century.
"We tested the hypothesis that the Victorians were cleverer than modern populations using high-quality instruments, namely measures of simple visual reaction time in a meta-analytic study," the researchers wrote in the study, which was published online in the journal Intelligence on Thursday. "Simple reaction time measures correlate substantially with measures of general intelligence and are considered elementary measures of cognition."
The results might surprise some. Especially if the researchers were simply measuring visual response times. After all, in a digital world constantly competing for our attention, it would seem people generally respond more quickly to visual stimuli. However, the results appear to indicate something different.
The Victorian era ran roughly from 1837 to 1901, coinciding with the reign of England's Queen Victoria. Some have credited the Reform Act of 1832 with sparking an era of previously unprecedented peace and prosperity in the U.K.
The results were measured using data from 1889 to 2004 and were analyzed by Michael A. Woodley of Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Jan te Nijenhuis of the University of Amsterdam and Raegan Murphy of the University College Cork in Ireland.
So why has there been such a steady drop? As UPI notes, previous research studies have found that women of higher intelligence tend to have fewer children on average, meaning that population growth may be driven by those with a lower IQ. And over time, the abundance of less intelligent offspring would affect the overall IQ average.
On average, the general intelligence of those populations measured dropped by 1.23 points per decade.
"These findings strongly indicate that with respect to general intelligence the Victorians were substantially cleverer than modern Western populations," the study says.
The study had other positive observations about the Victorian era, noting that economic efficiency began to flourish during the period and that the “height of the per capita numbers of significant innovations in science and technology, and also the per capita numbers of scientific geniuses,” occurred during that time, followed by a steady decline.
All may not be lost, however. The new study contradicts frequently replicated findings of an increase in raw IQ test scoring since the early 20th century. The finding of increased IQ, known as the Flynn Effect, is believed to be tapering off in some developed nations.