Slow food for thought

August 29, 2013

Gary Thomas (“Have to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time”, 15 August), as befits a professor of education, believes that with reference to intelligence “our abilities are getting better all the time” and he cites the “Flynn effect” in support of this assertion. However, if we accept that a fast reaction time is a component of high intelligence, then things become a bit more complicated.

In a recent journal article (“Were the Victorians cleverer than us?”, Intelligence), Michael A. Woodley, Jan te Nijenhuis and Raegan Murphy demonstrate in a scrupulous meta-analysis of objectively measured reaction time data, that on average we are in fact slowing down and people in the Victorian area were faster than we are. So, as reaction time does indeed correlate with g, the general factor of intelligence, it looks as though Flynn’s view of a never-ending increase in intelligence may be a comforting illusion.

R. E. Rawles
UCL honorary research fellow in psychology

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