Victorian Era Brits Were Smarter Than Us

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The average intelligence level of Victorian Era individuals was higher than that of people today, according to a new study.

We’re not all dumb, however, as another study in the same journal, Intelligence, found that intelligence has steadily increased in Saudi Arabia over the past four decades.

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Why study these parts of the world in the first place? For the new study on Victorians vs. us, lead author Michael Woodley of Umea University in Sweden and colleagues Jan te Nijenhuis and Raegan Murphy offered the following:

“The Victorian Era was marked by an explosion of innovation and genius, per capita rates of which appear to have declined subsequently. The presence of dysgenic fertility for IQ amongst Western nations, starting in the 19th century, suggests that these trends might be related to declining IQ. This is because high-IQ people are more productive and more creative. 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 latter refers to reaction times to visual stimuli (called RT), which were measured in tests administered to people from the late 1800’s until 2004. The researchers couldn’t compare standard IQ tests because those have changed over the years.

The RT tests supposedly can reflect a person’s IQ. The faster the person reacts, the smarter he or she supposedly is.

Intelligence as we think of it today, though, is very complex, encompassing hard-to-measure traits like creativity, ability to reason, communication skills and more. A person’s thinking ability can also be influenced in the moment by nutrition, amount of sleep, distractions, stress and other factors.

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Nevertheless, the researchers posit that RT can indicate the inherent intelligence of a person, likely referring to that individual’s genetically inherited brainpower. This is therefore not affected by things like education level, environmental influences and individual health.

At any rate, the study found that RT rates have dramatically increased over time, basically meaning people are becoming mentally more slow and stupid. Men went from 183 ms in the Victorian Era to 253 ms in modern times. Women went from 188 ms to 261ms.

I have to wonder that there was a glitch in the way that the times were measured, but will assume the increases are accurate.

The authors concluded, “These findings strongly indicate that with respect to g (the measure of general intelligence) the Victorians were substantially cleverer than modern Western populations.”

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