Hard-working people are necessarily intelligent

Trend reversal - the riddle of declining intelligence: does digitalization make you stupid?

The riddle of declining intelligence: does digitization make you stupid?

For decades, performance in intelligence tests has increased. The trend is now down. Our handling of digital media could be to blame. We are overwhelmed by their stimuli, says a brain researcher.

It's a kink that worries researchers. The kink of the curve that previously only knew one direction for most of the 20th century: upwards. This line shows the average IQ of people. In the industrialized nations, one generation after the other became a bit smarter in the past century.
This is what the scientist James Flynn discovered, which is why the increase in intelligence is named after him: the Flynn effect. In 1987 the researcher presented this for the first time after comparing hundreds of studies on the development of intelligence. But the euphoria only lasted a few years. The kink followed - and with it the trend reversal. The average IQ has been falling since the 1990s.

Last week, the German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” analyzed this phenomenon and found possible explanations, such as the influence of digitization. While artificial intelligence in computers is getting faster and faster in tech laboratories, our brains are getting slower. This is because digital stimuli constantly distract us and break our concentration.

We are not good at multitasking and can hardly learn it.

(Source: Lutz Jäncke, neuropsychologist)

Other reasons for the falling IQ are suspected to be outside the brain. In the thyroid. This needs iodine to be able to produce hormones. If a pregnant woman has too little of it, her child can be born underdeveloped; his brain is not maturing properly. A risk that exists even in industrialized nations - iodine deficiency also occurs in Europe. The table salt here is partially mixed with iodine, but this is not always used in the food industry.

In addition, studies indicate that hormone-changing substances, such as those contained in pesticides and flame retardants, change the production of the thyroid, writes "Die Zeit".

So what's going on in our heads? And what can we do to increase our intelligence again? We asked the Zurich neuropsychologist Lutz Jäncke.

How do you explain that IQ values ​​first increased and then decreased in the 20th century?

Lutz Jäncke: I think it is dangerous to say that people are getting smarter or more stupid overall. I consider the changes in the IQ test values ​​to be less relevant in this context. The intelligence tests have also changed significantly over these periods; they are not directly comparable. Education has also improved.

So people aren't getting dumber?

I wouldn't say that. For example, the IQ cannot be measured precisely. The deviations are only minor and say little about the practical significance. The decrease in IQ values ​​could therefore be explained by measurement problems. In addition, the tests do not necessarily measure genetically determined biological intelligence. We have strengths and weaknesses that come to light under certain constellations and sometimes not.

What do you think of the thesis that hormone-active substances or an iodine deficiency impair human brain development?

This is speculation. I consider a direct connection to intelligence to be far-fetched.

And how about digitization?

This is not wrong. If you don't practice skills like concentration or self-discipline, you may very well do less well on an intelligence test. A big problem with the internet is the flood of stimuli that distract us from focused thinking.

Instead, have we improved skills that IQ tests don't capture - like multitasking?

It's an interesting thought, but I'm reluctant to do so. We know that people who often use multimedia don't get better at multitasking, they even get worse. We have the same brain as Homo sapiens 45,000 years ago. We are not good at multitasking and can hardly learn it. We are overwhelmed with today's multitude of stimuli.

What does it take to deal with it?

We need to teach our children to focus on what is important.

Would you like to read books instead of surfing the Internet?

For example. But you can also read books on the Internet. It is crucial to stay focused on one activity and not constantly switch back and forth between different activities.

Can intelligence be trained?

There are intelligence researchers who deny that. But there are a number of studies that show that performance in intelligence tests increases when you practice complicated tasks. It would be more interesting for the future to examine the effectiveness of the brain using biological and neuroscientific methods. If you have clearly identified the respective neural basis of intelligence, you can then influence them. If necessary, the networks could be improved through training, drugs or magnetic stimulation. There will probably be very interesting applications in the future.

The less stimulating the environment, the less our brain develops.

How strong is intelligence inherited?

Intelligence researchers say that around 70 percent of intelligence is inherited and 30 percent is determined by the environment. I think the context is much more complex. The development of the brain depends on how much stimuli you experience in childhood, how you are fed and the like. In short: the less stimulating the environment, the less our brain develops. See, hear, smell, that is very important.

Is a tablet in the hands of a toddler also a stimulus?

It is a stimulus when the device is used correctly. The digital world is not the problem, but how to deal with it. You have to avoid the children being distracted by the many stimuli on the tablet. You should also focus on a few tasks on the tablet. From an early age you have to learn to stick to something. The problem is that young people in particular are chatting on Whatsapp, watching YouTube and listening to music at the same time. The attention span decreases.

And what do you recommend to keep the brain fit in old age?

Stay mentally, physically and socially active into old age. And keep your blood pressure and sugar levels under control. Everything else is more or less secondary.

Physical activity can be very beneficial for brain development.

Is using social media a social activity?

It depends on how they are used. By social activity I actually mean meeting people and discussing things with them - not posting a selfie on Instagram. Our brain is designed for real, direct exchange. But if you are physically handicapped, chatting can be very useful - but you need to have a sensible and animated discussion. The way Instagram is primarily used today is not very beneficial in my opinion.

If you spend a lot of time in front of the screen, you move less. How does this affect brain development?

Physical activity can be very beneficial for brain development. Anyone who does sport has to plan, organize and overcome one's weaker self. This requires activity of the frontal lobe and other cognitive abilities also benefit from it.

Conversely, does the lack of exercise in many people express itself in deficits in brain development?

It is conceivable. But you can also move little and do very intelligent things: write novels or solve differential equations. If, on the other hand, they just eat pizza and play Warcraft, that's the worse option.

Certain skills such as memory have lost their importance because we can look up almost anything on the Internet. Does that leave more brain capacity for other things?

You can see it that way. It has not yet been thoroughly checked, but it is one of the theses. I just ask myself: What is the free capacity used for?

For example, to learn a language?

Yes - if you had the self-discipline for it. The problem is that it is decreasing.