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Forget “Peak Oil” and “Peak Credit” … Are We On the Downslope of “Peak Intelligence”?

Forget “Peak Oil” and “Peak Credit” … Are We On the Downslope of “Peak Intelligence”? thumbnail

Is Modern Life Making Us Dumber?

Scientists say that we have much smaller brains than our ancestors had 20,000 years ago … and we might have gotten stupider since agriculture became widespread.

Huffington Post reports that we’ve probably gotten dumber than even our Victorian ancestors:

A provocative new study suggests human intelligence is on the decline. In fact, it indicates that Westerners have lost 14 I.Q. points on average since the Victorian Era.


As for Dr. te Nijenhuis and colleagues, they analyzed the results of 14 intelligence studies conducted between 1884 to 2004, including one by Sir Francis Galton, an English anthropologist and a cousin of Charles Darwin. Each study gauged participants’ so-called visual reaction times — how long it took them to press a button in response to seeing a stimulus. Reaction time reflects a person’s mental processing speed, and so is considered an indication of general intelligence.


In the late 19th Century, visual reaction times averaged around 194 milliseconds, the analysis showed. In 2004 that time had grown to 275 milliseconds. Even though the machine gauging reaction time in the late 19th Century was less sophisticated than that used in recent years, Dr. te Nijenhuis told The Huffington Post that the old data is directly comparable to modern data.

Other research has suggested an apparent rise in I.Q. scores since the 1940s, a phenomenon known as the Flynn Effect. But Dr. te Nijenhuis suggested the Flynn Effect reflects the influence of environmental factors — such as better education, hygiene and nutrition — and may mask the true decline in genetically inherited intelligence in the Western world.

This new research was published in the April 13 issue of Intelligence.

The Daily Mail notes that we’ve gotten dumber since the 1950s:

Richard Lynn, a psychologist at the University of Ulster, calculated the decline in humans’ genetic potential.

He used data on average IQs around the world in 1950 and 2000 to discover that our collective intelligence has dropped by one IQ point.

Dr Lynn predicts that if this trend continues, we could lose another 1.3 IQ points by 2050.

There are several theories for why we are getting dumber, including the following:

(1) Toxic chemicals in the environment can reduce intelligence. Examples include flame retardant, lead (found in many lipsticks), certain pesticides (and see this and this),  fluoride (more) and radiation (radiation can reduce brain size, and “Many epidemiologic studies show that extremely low doses of radiation increase the incidence of  … diminished intelligence”).

Modern man is surrounded by toxic chemicals …

(2) Humans evolved to eat a lot of Omega 3s:

Wild game animals have much higher levels of essential Omega 3 fatty acids than domesticated animals. Indeed, leading nutritionists say that humans evolved to consume a lot of Omega 3 fatty acids in the wild game and fish which they ate (more), and that a low Omega 3 diet is a very new trend within the last 100 years or so.

In other words, while omega 3s have just now been discovered by modern science, we evolved to get a lot of omega 3s … and if we just eat a modern, fast food diet without getting enough omega 3s, it can cause all sorts of health problems.

So something just discovered by science can be a central fuel which our bodies evolved to use.

Omega 3s – in turn – boost intelligence and help prevent cognitive decline.

(3) Similarly, Science Daily notes:

Exposure to specific bacteria in the environment, already believed to have antidepressant qualities, could increase learning behavior, according to research presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breath in when they spend time in nature,” says Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, who conducted the research with her colleague Susan Jenks.


“We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice,” says Matthews.

In a second experiment the bacteria were removed from the diet of the experimental mice and they were retested. While the mice ran the maze slower than they did when they were ingesting the bacteria, on average they were still faster than the controls.

Obviously, we don’t get in as much soil as our ancestors did.

(In addition, some bacteria in our gut greatly influence brain function. Most native cultures ate fermented foods containing healthy bacteria.)

(4) Exercise boosts intelligence … and our ancestors got a lot more exercise than we do!

“Even our most highly trained athletes pale in comparison to” farmers  7,000 years ago.

(5) In addition, high levels of cortisol – the chemical released when one is under continuous, unrelenting stress – and poverty can physically impair the brain and people’s ability to learn.

Hunter-gatherers had more leisure time – and a more playful attitude – than we do today.

(6) [For this and the next theory, we quote from HuffPost.] Dr. Jan te Nijenhuis points to the fact that women of high intelligence tend to have fewer children than do women of lower intelligence. This negative association between I.Q. and fertility has been demonstrated time and again in research over the last century.

(7) “The reduction in human intelligence … would have begun at the time that genetic selection became more relaxed,” Dr. Gerald Crabtree, professor of pathology and developmental biology at Stanford University, told The Huffington Post in an email. “I projected this occurred as our ancestors began to live in more supportive high density societies (cities) and had access to a steady supply of food. Both of these might have resulted from the invention of agriculture, which occurred about 5,000 to 12,000 years ago.”

Postscript:  Relaxing activities like meditation and prayer have been shown to increase brain mass and connectivity in certain areas of the brain.  And sex makes you smarter and causes brain growth.

Washington’s Blog

27 Comments on "Forget “Peak Oil” and “Peak Credit” … Are We On the Downslope of “Peak Intelligence”?"

  1. rockman on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 9:40 am 

    Of course intelligence doesn’t necessarily equate to making ethical decisions. I’ve read compared to his contemporaries Hitler was a rather intelligent chap. That wasn’t of much value to the Jews, gypsies, mentally handicapped and much of the rest of the global population. Likewise I’m fairly sure that there are many who might argue against the data supporting GW or the PO but in reality believe it’s valid but reject it because it gets in the way of other objectives.

    I find that the judgment of how intelligent one assumes another person might have as much to do with whether they agree with that person’s view of matters. And if you disagree with that what can I say: you’re an idiot. LOL.

  2. Plantagenet on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 10:18 am 

    Marijuana use is another cause of falling IQs. Studies show pot users grow dumber and the chemicals in pot cause some parts of the human brain to become deformed.

  3. JuanP on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 10:26 am 

    Rock, LOL. I agree then, for now. I think we all think we are smarter than we are, too, myself included. I think I am a genius! And if you disagree …
    I agree with almost everything in this article. I think many here will find the last phrase a good excuse for interrupting their reading more often in the future.

  4. JuanP on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 10:29 am 

    Plant, I agree. One of the things I liked about weed was the fact that it both dumbed and numbed me, but I don’t have time or energy for it any longer.

  5. Fulton J. Waterloo on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 10:32 am 

    What everyone is forgetting is the “Idiocracy” thesis. Yes, intelligent women tend to have fewer children than women of average intelligence. But there is another biological facet to this: the bizarre female attraction to LOSER men. A sort of reverse Darwinism has been occurring since at least the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s where the LEAST intellectually and ethically capable men have become prime breeders…

  6. baptised on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 10:41 am 

    Yep Fulton that is what happens when mass media says worship sports.

  7. Makati1 on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 10:43 am 

    Weed is not guilty of intelligence loss. Better you blame alcohol and prescription drugs. Or better yet, blame the deliberate dumbing down of America by the government dictated school curriculum and Florine in the water. The Asia countries have moved to the top of the intelligence ladder. They start school at about age 3 or 4 and work at learning.

    If you want proof of my statement, look at the real world today.

  8. Northwest Resident on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 11:21 am 

    JuanP — I puffed my way through college, making straight A’s and top of the class grades all the way through. Of course, I was never a “heavy” smoker. Since then I have regularly done intensive and complex software design and implementation, puffing fairly regularly though still not heavily. I seriously doubt that pot leads to loss of intelligence, unless of course, one stupefies him/herself with it — but that would be also true of alcohol or any other “mind altering” drug.

    I have read articles that statistically indicate that the more intelligent a person is, the more likely that person is to experiment with or use “illicit” drugs. And I have met a lot of really dumb people who claim to have never used “illicit” drugs, but they drink like fish.

    Loss of intelligence in humanity is obvious, and the reasons are obvious. Throughout human development and evolution, Darwin’s Law played a vital role in weeding out the “stupid ones”. In our modern age, with billions of “energy slaves” available (via use of fossil fuels), there is so much excess food and security laying around that even the stupidest amongst us are able to thrive and sponge up all they need to remain fat and happy — and they pass their inferior genes on to their children, and those children on to their children. The government takes care of the stupidest amongst us when those people end up not being able to care for themselves, and those same stupid people go on to reproduce, breeding ever stupider offspring. Then you have the religious right extremists who “home school” their children with books that teach the world is only 2000 years old, that evolution is a communist plot and other non-scientific curriculums. Imagine how stupid those kids are, and how stupid their kids are likely to be.

    Stupider and stupider is where the vast swarming mass of humanity is headed, but there will be a bottleneck in the not too distant future, through which not a lot of the stupid ones are going to make it.

  9. Norm on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 11:31 am 

    Plant is right again. On the average, pot makes people stupid. I have been around some potheads at times, and they do pathetically stupid things and they don’t remember things you said to them.

    The new pot is much more powerful than 1960’s pot, making it a bigger problem. Especially despicable, state government legalizes it, to profit from it. So the government is in the business of damaging people’s brains, to make money.

    Oh ya, IQ’s are declining. The study said 1 point by 2050 etc etc? Hell no its falling by 1 point every year. Just look around at the fat things waddling around the Wal Mart.

    AND the smart women don’t have kids, like how they found statistical proof. Of course its true. The dumb people all breed like bunnies, fueled by welfare & food stamps. Meanwhile the academics & scientists have no kids.

  10. Northwest Resident on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 12:06 pm 

    Norm — Plant is not right again, and finding instances where the habitual compulsive Obama-blamer is “right” are few and far between. Hey, how about instead of believing right-wing tobacco and alcohol industry inspired propaganda, we look at an actual medical study:

    “The effect of cannabis on IQ is really confined to adolescent users,” says lead author Madeline Meier, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University. “Our hypothesis is that we see this IQ decline in adolescence because the adolescent brain is still developing and if you introduce cannabis, it might interrupt these critical developmental processes.”

    ht tp://

    You’ll find a lot of medical studies that echo the same sentiments. Of course, keep in mind, that adolescents using alcohol, sniffing glue or stealing their parents pain meds will also lead to “loss of IQ”.

    On the other hand, for over 30 years I have worked with some of the smartest people around in the IT and software development business, and a majority of those people have or are still using pot, in a responsible and non-IQ threatening way. Smoking pot in and of itself does NOT lead to lower IQ, as much as the right-wing religious freaks and established tobacco/alcohol/prison industrial complex folks would like you to believe.

  11. Beery on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 12:28 pm 

    Anyone credulous enough to believe this BS can buy a bridge I’m selling.

    The fact that brains are getting smaller (if it is a fact) does not necessarily mean that we’re getting stupider. Evolution might be making the brain more efficient, so it can be smaller AND more intelligent.

    As for the notion that our IQ has been reduced since Victorian times, well IQ has always been cultural. Maybe our IQ tests are more rigorous than they used to be. All I know is this: if Victorians, with their openly xenophobic and sexist attitudes, were smarter, I’d rather be a more inclusive and progressive dummy.

  12. Beery on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 12:39 pm 

    The postscript says a lot – citing prayer as a way to make the brain bigger and smarter – yeah, right, and I’m sure all the great Nobel laureates believed in fairies.

    Am I really the only one willing to apply a bit of critical thinking here? I mean, I think it’s ironic that so many folks just accept unquestioningly the notion that we’re getting stupider.

    Anyone who goes back to the sources for the article will soon find that these scientific findings are based on pure speculation.

    I mean, engage the brains, folks!

  13. Beery on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 12:44 pm 

    Also, reaction time (which is what part of this “research” is based on) is not a valid measure of intelligence.

  14. Beery on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 12:47 pm 

    On the other hand, maybe we are getting stupider – after all, everyone here seems to be unwilling to do the least bit of research into the article. However, maybe that’s not a lack of intelligence, but laziness, or just a factor of having one’s biases confirmed.

  15. ghung on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 1:07 pm 

    This is a stupid article. I couldn’t understand what dude was talking about.

  16. Don on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 1:17 pm 

    Of course there is is also the other possibility. The one we all think of but for some reason no one wants to even consider it being a possibility. Do the sample groups have the same charac… Nope, nevermind, must be the omega 3s. Burn anyone mentioning r/K or eugenics as a reason at the stake.

  17. JuanP on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 1:42 pm 

    NWR, I was talking about abuse, not use, and just making fun.
    Being high didn’t stop me from getting some of the highest test scores my college advisors had ever seen, getting straight As, being the best in the class, or getting a full tuition honors scholarship in college.
    I dropped out of college anyway because I couldn’t put up with the crowds. I am a hardcore loner and introvert. A pity there were no online classes back then. Because of that I never got into the rat race, choosing a shorter life of voluntary simplicity and poverty instead. I have no regrets on that call, I never belonged in the corporate world.

  18. herrmeier on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 5:36 pm 

    NWR: can you imagine? If you didn’t smoke, the software you write would be less buggy.

    The fast breeding region of Africa is mostly to blame for the overall average intelligence of man to approach the level of chimpanzees.

  19. Northwest Resident on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 6:35 pm 

    JuanP — Gotcha! Once again, we are on the same wavelength.

    herrmeier — It is no surprise that many of the most creative and talented people in the world today are pot smokers. And, my software less buggy? Less buggy than no bugs at all would be very difficult to achieve… 🙂

  20. Poordogabone on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 7:33 pm 

    The trend for science peer review research conducted is shrinking in the US between 2000 to 2010 while exploding in china, japan, europe.
    America is indeed trending towards a dark age just like the middle east which was at the forefront of science until the 13th century when playing with numbers (math) was declared the work of the devil.

    An algorithm (pronounced AL-go-rith-um) is a procedure or formula for solving a problem. The word derives from the name of the mathematician, Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi, who was part of the royal court in Baghdad and who lived from about 780 to 850.

  21. Makati1 on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 8:07 pm 

    Low intelligence usually goes with prejudice and a closed mind…

  22. Norm on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 9:36 pm 

    Everybody go smoke pot. It makes you smarter, the drug dealer said so.

  23. R1verat on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 10:06 pm 

    -The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found, in a 2011 study, that the use of antidepressants has increased 400% since 1988, making these medications the most frequently used by those between 18 and 44 years of age.(Reference: [Nov 2013]

    -The average American watches more than five hours of live television every day.
    More if you’re African American. Less if you’re Hispanic or Asian American. By ethnic groups, Nielsen finds that African Americans watch an average of 218 hours of television a month. Whites watch 155.3 hours, Hispanics an average of 123.2 hours and Asian Americans an average of 92.3 hours. (Reference: [Mar2014]

    -My personal observations: The most interesting, intelligent people I’ve met “indulge”. Alcoholics are never fun.

  24. Rob on Wed, 27th Aug 2014 11:52 pm 

    I’ve never smoked pot and i’m dumber then a pile of bricks. I hate the term Omega 3’s… that is so vague. EPA?DHA?ALA? they aren’t all created equal.

  25. Davy on Thu, 28th Aug 2014 6:58 am 

    I enjoyed pot, alcohol, and chewing tobacco at different times in my life. I especially enjoyed pot. I grew some Bad-A**-S**t and felt like a moonshiner doing it. I have been completely drug, alcohol, and tobacco free for 8 1/2 years now. I feel great albeit in my 50’s feeling the effects of age. Not polluting my body has strengthened my mental abilities, allowed me good sleep, and better health. I don’t miss the pot hack, alcohol headache, and the sore mouth from chewing tobacco. I had a great time but it cost me lots of money over the years in product and stupidities. Sobriety has many advantages. I find productivity is much higher when you are not worrying about your next drink or hit of pot. But hey, enjoy yourself if it is not a problem. If you can be moderate nothing wrong with either. I don’t recommend tobacco. I am an intense person so I did these things beyond moderation and with gusto. This was not in my long term interest. Besides life is a journey I am glad to have taken a new and interesting road.

  26. John on Thu, 28th Aug 2014 11:00 am 

    My story is similar to Davy. I smoked and drank immoderately for many years, interspersed with long periods of sobriety. Smoking and drinking impacted my productivity, my self-confidence and my standing among my peers, but as far as I can tell, did not affect my intelligence.

  27. Northwest Resident on Thu, 28th Aug 2014 11:57 am 

    Being a “light weight” partier has its advantages. Sure, you get a lot of fun poked at you for being such a lightweight, but if the ultimate goal is to wake up the next morning feeling as healthy and as good as possible, then being a light weight is the way to go. They used to call me the one hit one drink wonder kid — that did it for me, no more, thanks anyway. I stopped hanging out with heavy obsessive partiers a long time ago anyway, except my brother — he can’t stop once he starts — he doesn’t want to stop, and the effects on his health definitely show it.

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