Is Modern Life Making Us Dumber?

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

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.

Indeed, 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.

There are several theories for why we are getting dumber, including the following (the first 2 come from the HuffPost article):

(1) 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.

(2) “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.”

(3)  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.

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!

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

On the other hand, relaxing activities like meditation and prayer have been shown to increase brain mass and connectivity in certain areas of the brain.

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

(5) Toxic chemicals in the environment can reduce intelligence.  Examples include flame retardantlead (found in many lipsticks), certain pesticides (and see this and this), and fluoride.

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  • Honest Harry’s Used Cars

    Epsilon minor beings are visible everywhere in our society. Just look at what Octo-mom just brought into the world.

    These beings are cheering having elected Barack Obama as President, believing that an ObamaPhone and food stamps, and even cut back food stamps, are their eternal deliveration from the oppression of their unabated underclass and perpetual slavery.

    Economists explain, these Epsilon minor beings are necessary for a strong economy. (Without theft in the world, the world economy would sink into a massive abyss of never-ending, economic depression. Without so many incompetent souls in this modern world, there would be nowhere for social service agencies to ply their demented trade.)

    And many high class American whores will refuse to even acknowledge the existence of an Epsilon minor being -that happens to unfortunately wander into their field of view. Yech!

    Tolerance, people, is for the dim-witted. These Epsilon minor beings are overwhelming us -even as you read this. Their reproduction rates are rewriting all the Malthusian equations. And now, they are even causing the extinction everyone else. Most normal people are simply overwhelmed with the over-crowding-nausea they cause.

    Be tolerant. Your time is over. The illegal immigrants coming into this country will soon enough own it, what’s left of it…

    • David Mills

      Just unsubstantiated opinion. Perhaps you are one of the beings you complain so much about. How about some science?

    • Aoi Warai

      Okay, just to re-cap: “Epsilon minor beings are everywhere, as evidenced by Octo-mom.” What are epsilon minor beings — are those like pledians or nibiru aliens? “High class American whores won’t even acknowledge one when it walks into their field of view?” What kind of acknowledgement should the “high class whores” rightly have, one of outrage? I’m not sure why you’re angry at “them whores” for not spotting the space aliens (or maybe epsilon minor is your word for “illegal alien”, please explain). Also, you said tolerance is for the dim-witted, then went on a rant about immigrants owning the country… after you subtract the descendants of Native Tribes, isn’t the population of the US 100% immigrant? I tend to agree with the thing about tolerance being for the dim witted; we shouldn’t tolerate the intolerant at all.

  • Blair T. Longley

    The omega 3 question provides one of the perspectives on some of the deeper reasons WHY these trends towards people are appearing to be getting stupider: the single best plant source of omega 3 is hemp seed oil, which has been completely criminalized to cultivate in the USA because HUGE LIES, that “marijuana is as bad as murder” were developed in a propaganda campaign to criminalize all cannabis. Through the USA, and the UN, almost every other country was pressured by international forces to make criminalize cannabis. Those international pressures tend to track back to the same group at the top of the social pyramid system, the international bankers. EVERYTHING CONNECTS THROUGH A SOCIAL SYSTEM WHICH DEPENDS UPON KEEPING THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE IGNORANT AND AFRAID, IN ORDER THAT THEY CAN BE CONTROLLED AND EXPLOITED.

    There is a deliberate WAR AGAINST CONSCIOUSNESS, which a small minority actively engages in against the majority. There is an overall social system of debt slavery, backed by wars based on deceits. The old systems of social slavery did NOT end, they simply became more sophisticated. The funding of the political processes became vicious spirals that developed the monetary and taxation systems, which have achieved goals of developing fear, and maintaining ignorance. The runaway triumphs of fundamentally fraudulent financial accounting systems, which were legalized, and enforced by corrupted governments, have spread out and multiplied throughout every aspect of our entire civilization. There is no area of modern life which is not being controlled by huge lies, backed by lots of violence. Therefore, we can observe various aspects of that, such as the profit from junk food systems, and the profit from disease systems, and so on and so forth … all of which systematically contributed to the facts reviewed in this article above.

    The deepest of those contributing factors is the abject failure of people to understand why militarism is the supreme ideology, and why it must necessarily be. That means that all of the forms of artificial selection that human beings are operating upon themselves are manifesting in ways which are an expression of the maximum possible deceits. There are practically infinitely deep tunnels of such deceits running throughout our society. In my view, that especially includes the controlled opposition to the established ruling classes, which are typically very deliberately stupid when it comes to their “solutions” to social problems, since they are only allowed to exist, and become relatively successful, as a controlled opposition.

    The single simplest symbol and most extreme example of that general pattern of social facts surrounds hemp plants. It is BECAUSE hemp is the single best plant on the planet for people, for food, fiber, fun and medicine, that the law is based on the HUGE LIES that “marijuana is almost as bad as murder,” and those huge lies are being enforced by legalized violence, and that overall situation continues …

    For a collection of information about Cannabis as Food, see:

    Hemp has a good three-to-one balance of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids. Also, besides the good fats including omega 3, 6, there is 9, as well as the rarer LGA fatty acid. Hemp seeds are also the best plant source for protein.

    Those are the kinds of FACTS that one needs to put into perspective to more deeply understand this article above. Our society is almost totally controlled by systems of runaway, triumphant, force backed frauds. In that context, the controlled opposition has generally been reduced to being deliberately stupid too. Thus, our ability to understand our social system of artificial selection is as hamstrung as it can possibly be!

    To understand this article above, one has to consider the degrees to which the history of warfare, based on successful deceits, which enabled the people who were the best at being dishonest, and backing that up with violence, to prevail, has gradually taken more total control over EVERYTHING! Furthermore, to more adequately understand that, one has to especially realize that almost all the alleged “opposition,” which is allowed to publicly exist, and be recognized, spouts similar bullshit that the biggest bullies also do.

    We are observing the consequences of FRAUD PEAKING. Our civilization is almost totally dominated by legalized lies, backed by legalized violence. Every aspect of what it is doing is dominated by the best professional liars and immaculate hypocrites (including most of the reactionary revolutionaries, which are the various aspects of the controlled opposition to those systems.) Hence, EVERYTHING we are doing manifests the profound contradictions that we are controlled by deceits, backed by destruction.

    The runaway triumph of PEAK FRAUD is why we are observing what looks like our civilization is collapsing at “PEAK INTELLIGENCE,” while it looks like “Modern Life IS Making Us Dumber!” The radical truths which we truly need to understand and resolve those problems better are something which are almost totally banished from all public debates, since the public space is almost totally dominated by the best deceivers, while only various kinds of controlled opposition is given public recognition as “protesting” that.

  • kimyo

    >>our ancestors got a lot more exercise than we do!

    perhaps. or, maybe we’re more like tigers. hunt once a week, eat their fill, spend the rest of the time sleeping ~23 hours a day.

    what we do know is that humans and our predecessors were always in touch with the surface of the planet. no rubber-soled shoes. no 12 story buildings, automobiles.

    when you take today’s humans, and re-connect them (known as earthing) to the planet, their levels of cortisol and thyroid hormones change for the better, positive, measurable benefits simply from being grounded (the theory is, electrons make their way into the body, help it rid itself of free radicals).

    Earthing of an electrically insulated human organism during night rest
    causes lowering of serum concentrations of iron, ionized calcium,
    inorganic phosphorus, and reduction of renal excretion of calcium and
    phosphorus. Earthing during night rest decreases free tri-iodothyronine
    and increases free thyroxine and thyroid-stimulating hormone. The
    continuous earthing of the human body decreases blood glucose in
    patients with diabetes. Earthing decreases sodium, potassium, magnesium,
    iron, total protein, and albumin concentrations while the levels of
    transferrin, ferritin, and globulins α1, α2, β, and γ increase. These
    results are statistically significant.

  • wunsacon

    Oh, god! What you’re telling us is that “Idiocracy” isn’t just an absurd comedy — it’s a prediction??


    Yeah, watch them old black and white movies! we’ve really devolved.

  • gozounlimited

    Rather….. The masses are discovering the importance of recognizing and healing the many different types of trauma
    that they face in life. Growing awareness of the layers of trauma
    hidden in their psyches, bodies and nervous systems, allows the realization that trauma is
    one of the barriers to discovering who they really are.

    Under Consciousness…. ….. Camille Carr, Jon James and Christine Jensen – ‘Consciousness and Trauma’ – Moderated by Iain McNay

  • Washington76

    China demand for coal stokes world market Updated: 2013-05-24 By Du Juan (China Daily)

  • Otishertz

    Technology used to extend our senses
    and abilities, now it curtails them. Memory, synthesis, and
    abstraction are excised by the intermediation of our computer tools.
    Google makes memory obsolete. Youtube makes learning irrelevant.
    Mimicry is the norm. Communication is truncated by small text
    message, acronyms and concurrent abbreviating of the English
    language. Spelling is unnecessary. Word suggestion in phone keyboards
    predetermines and guides conversations. Voice recognition makes
    writing unnecessary. Online maps and navigation make finding your way
    around obsolete. Our tools degrade free thought and reduce
    intellectual ability. Most young people would be hopelessly lost
    without their “smart” phone.

    Tagging information with software has
    replaced hierarchical organization. reliance on blind code to sort
    information prevents related subsets from forming into trees and thus
    blocks natural mind mapping. Hierarchical thought formation where
    ideas are put into related trees of headings and subheadings is
    stopped by tagging. Premise and conclusion with supporting facts are
    only put together by human beings. The destruction of hierarchical
    thought structure inherent in learning will lead to people who cannot
    think for themselves. Most young people today carry all their smarts
    in their phone.

    • wunsacon

      @otishertz: Not sure what your point is, because you exceeded 140 characters and I lost interest after that.

      # ;-) #

  • David Mills

    Progesterone is the granddaddy of hormones and is now being touted as the hormone of the brain. Unfortunately most of us are deficient in it. It is the precursor hormone of testosterone, estrogen and cortisol and helps to regulate these hormones as well as the hormones, thyroid and insulin. Progesterone helps increase brain energy and many brain diseases and mental disorders have been linked to a decrease in brain energy. Progesterone may also increase IQ. I read an article today by a PhD biochemist who alluded to a study in the 80′s that showed that children who took progesterone increased IQ by 35 points.

  • Epso

    We are not getting less or more smart. If we actually did make progress within 100 or even 1000 years, we would quickly become a society of geniuses coming from a society of complete idiots. We have proof that none of the two is true. We know that humans could function fine in their everyday life and we also know we had great minds in all ages of our civilization.

    The attempt to connect this to genes is extremely dangerous propaganda. The kind that is always used to justify inequality with bogus science. The media should not even give exposure to these points of view, it’s a very dangerous practice that supports specific agendas we could live without. What’s the (final) solution? Forbidding women to have children based on their IQ-test-measured intelligence? Forcing smart people to have more children? Kill newborns that do not pass the tests? Clone those who pass?

    Even large measured changes in IQ-test-measured intelligence can be attributed to education alone. Why resort to pseudoscience to explain everything? Teach kids some real philosophy they can use to improve society and protect themselves and others. Basic science, logic, dialectic, rhetoric, politics. Disarm the weapons of fear, pseudoscience, emotional manipulation, and sophism. All problems will be solved in less than 100 years, and the average IQ will probably get a boost of 40 points.

  • Deborah William

    Our ancestors did get a lot of exercise than we do but what has that got to do with boosting intelligence. Are you saying that our athletes are intelligent beings. i dont think so!

    Dissertation Writing

  • jelliclekace

    The idea makes a lot of sense. It’s appalling how much ignorance exists these days. Many of the ignorant have doctorates even. Sickening.