May 30, 2013

"Were the Victorians cleverer than us?"

Michael Woodley et al's paper on how reaction times are slower now than when Galton first measured them has been getting a lot of pixels. Here's the Daily Mail's write-up, which London School psychologist James Thompson endorsed as better than the one in the more upscale Telegraph
Were the Victorians cleverer than us? Research indicates a decline in brainpower and reflex speed thanks to 'REVERSE' natural selection 
Study claims we have 14 IQ points LESS than our 19th Century ancestors
Findings contradict the Flynn effect, which claims IQ has risen three points every decade since the Second World War 
By NICK MCDERMOTT 
It was an era of glorious scientific discovery. 
And the reason for the Victorians unprecedented success is simple – they were ‘substantially cleverer’ than us. 
Researchers compared reaction times - a reliable indicator of general intelligence – since the late 1800s to the present day and found our fleetness of mind is diminishing. 
They claim our slowing reflexes suggest we are less smart than our ancestors, with a loss of 1.23 IQ points per decade or 14 IQ points since Victorian times.
While an average man in 1889 had a reaction time of 183 milliseconds, this has slowed to 253ms in 2004.  
They found the same case with women, whose speed deteriorated from 188 to 261ms in the same period. 

Some of this data comes from Sir Francis Galton's famous public laboratory at a London museum where visitors could have themselves measured on all sorts of dimensions. The IQ tests hadn't been invented yet, so Galton used reaction times as a proxy for intelligence.
The research team from Umea University, Sweden, the University of Amsterdam and University College Cork said IQ scores are excellent predictors of job performance and those with higher intelligence are both more productive and creative. 
But the scientists were unable to directly compare IQ from different eras as earlier generations had limited access to education, improved nutrition and hygiene, which would have boosted modern results. 
Instead, they compared reaction times, which they claim ‘can be used to meaningfully compare historical and contemporary populations in terms of levels of general intelligence’. 
The figures indicate a decline in brainpower since the Victorian era, which contradicts the so-called Flynn effect, which has found a worldwide increase in measured IQ scores of three points a decade since the Second World War.

Researcher Dr Michael Woodley said: ‘They actually indicate a pronounced decline in IQ since the Victorian era, three times bigger than previous theoretical estimates would have us believe.’

The report in the journal Intelligence found: ‘The Victorian era was characterized by great accomplishments. As great accomplishment is generally a product of high intelligence, we tested the hypothesis that the Victorians were actually cleverer than modern populations. 
‘We used a robust elementary cognitive indicator of general intelligence, namely measures of simple reaction times.’  
And with the research looking at historical reaction time data, the scientists claim the drop in modern IQ could be even more dramatic than predicted.

‘It should also be emphasized that whilst our value of a −14.1 IQ point decline is an estimate based on the best meta-analytical data available, a simple inspection of our figure shows there is a non-negligible amount of scatter around the regression line. 
‘The real magnitude of the effect might therefore be several IQ points lower or even higher,’ they wrote.

HBD Chick offers skeptical commentaries.

Back in the 1990s, I read up on Arthur Jensen's research on his reaction time experiments, and ... I don't know. It seemed very, very complicated, even more complicated than reading Jensen on IQ.

How about me? I'm a reasonably intelligent person. Do I have good reaction times? In general, I'd say no. I'm one of the few people with a good record of avoiding traffic accidents who will tell you I'm not an above average driver. (A funny professorial joke is to have all students close their eyes, then ask all the ones who are above average drivers to raise their hands. When they open their eyes, usually the vast majority have their hands up.)

Personally, I can recall an embarrassingly long list of flubs I made where the quick reactions of other drivers kept me out of trouble. (This is not to say I'm a bad driver, just that I'm average driver who has a less biased memory than most.)

Athletically, I seem to have mediocre reflexes. As a baseball hitter, I could get the bat on the ball but I couldn't pull it to left field. Most of my hits came to right field because I was just a little slow in starting to swing.

There are two intellectual areas where I have very fast reflexes. At movie comedies, I often start laughing a split second before the rest of the audience. And I was an outstanding College Bowl (now Quiz Bowl) player in the toss-up questions where speed matters. (My one appearance on Jeopardy, I only came in second because my buzzer was malfunctioning.)

So, I don't really get the topic of reaction times.

81 comments:

AWC said...

Does anyone have a link to full text of this paper (free of charge)?

anony-mouse said...

1/ Great athletes vs great scientists. I have no doubt who has better reaction times.

Wonder how well Einstein played ping-pong? Granted E Asians do well there but still.

2/ Yes the Victorians invented great things. But what percentage of Victorians were actual inventors?

San Franciscan non-monk said...

"At movie comedies, I often start laughing a split second before the rest of the audience..."

Great Scott, still? Then you are a very very quick middle aged guy.

Dave Pinsen said...

It would be interesting to see a study that measured reaction times and IQs of athletes who require fast reflexes (boxers, hockey & soccer goalies, etc.).

anony-mouse said...

OTOH if its true maybe colleges will be allowed to hold ping-pong competitions for admittance in place of 'culturally-biased' IQ tests.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX said...

AWC said...
Does anyone have a link to full text of this paper (free of charge)?

http://lesacreduprintemps19.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/were-the-victorians-smarter-than-us.pdf

B.B.

Anonymous said...

Reaction time is correlated ~.4 with IQ. Weak, but it's still evidence. You're way better off with Raven's, but unfortunately we can't transmit inventions to the past.

The trouble with the paper is comparing science museum visitors (who should have average IQ of ~110 from the occupation statistics) with the general population (who should have average IQ of ~100). What do you know, there's about a ten point IQ difference between them!

Anonymous said...

That is a creative way to fix the achievement gap.

Jehu said...

I understand that success in lots of military tasks is highly correlated with IQ---even things like hitting a target with a rifle or larger implement of destruction given X amount of training.
How far back do we have those records?
The problem with supposedly culture-neutral things like Raven is that they AREN'T culture neutral across time, if you view the past as a foreign country.

Imagine, for instance, that the IQ test adopted by the leading institutions of the day is Sudoku and Sudoku-like puzzles. Were this decision made in, say, 1920, it'd probably be pretty culturally neutral for a few years, but it'd pretty quickly work its way into the culture within a generation or so. Kids toys would start emphasizing similar mental tasks. You'll note, by a quick trip to a baby reseller show or SWPL kid's toy store that things like the Raven certainly have. So what has happened is that tests that expect that everyone is equally naive about the task they contain have slowly evolved effectively to be more like the SAT---a test where everyone has been exposed ad nauseum to the test's materials. Both types can give you a rank-ordeering from dim to smart, but only as long as you compare apples to apples. This is why you'll note far less of a Flynn effect on tests of crystallized knowledge, like your various assessment tests--an amount we could plausibly put down to improvements in environment, less lead, more iodine, less parasites of various sorts, and so forth. Or you could talk to someone that the US military back in WWII or Korea pigeonholed as being around IQ 115 or so and do the reality check. Do they still feel when talking to them like the sigma Uncle Sam said they were? Generally, if they're not in dementia, I've found the answer is yes.

anony-mouse said...

OTOH if its true maybe colleges will be allowed to hold ping-pong competitions for admittance in place of 'culturally-biased' IQ tests.

candid_observer said...

"At movie comedies, I often start laughing a split second before the rest of the audience..."

Hmm. Interesting. FWIW, I have noticed that when watching sporting events in public I start cheering a split second before others on a good or winning play. It's feels a little weird, as if the others are watching a time delayed broadcast.

In general, it's worth noting that Jensen at least argued that the reaction times he was measuring had nothing to do really with athletic reflexes (does anyone think that blacks have slower athletic reflexes?)

The reaction times of interest are to quite specialized sorts of tasks. Moreover, and quite importantly, the reaction times for individual tasks are rarely correlated very much with IQ (I think .3 is a generous figure for most individual tasks). The robust correlations only come when a variety of such tasks are measured and combined.

While Jensen does a lot of work to combine these reaction times into something meaningful, I can't say I ever felt much convinced by his argument. I'm not sure he or anyone has ever assembled a suite of tests and applied them to a very large number of people to see how well they would predict IQ or anything else.

gubbler, champion of all things checheny(except criminality, corruption, and bride-stealing) said...

one thing for sure, white CQ and SQ are shot.

No courage and no survivalist reaction to all that's going on.

Anonymous said...

"My one appearance on Jeopardy, I only came in second because my buzzer was malfunctioning."

Suuuuuure.

- SonOfStrom

Derek Brown said...

You recognize resemblances to Mark Ruffalo often years before others do. Id say that's a better indicator than Raven's.

Speaking of which it would be great guerrilla marketing for your site if you impersonated that Diaz-Balart guy and sneaked into the House of Representatives and motioned to name a post office after whichever conquistador he is descended from.

Yea but as your Apt 23 review revealed alot of times that is because you put jokes into the show that aren't actually there.

Truth said...

OK, it's settled; Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the smartest man on the planet.

A Working Class American said...

my theory==> the more knowledge you have, the slower your reactions and the harder it is to memorize new material. This explains a lot about iq decline in old age and why members of primitive tribes can memorize things better than people of modern society

Anonymous said...

Makes me wonder if there is a correlation between juggling ability and IQ. I can juggle 4 balls, but I am not a smart person at all.

Cail Corishev said...

So, I don't really get the topic of reaction times.

I made my school's quiz bowl team because everyone knew I was the smartest kid in the school, and when we practiced answering questions, I knew all the answers. My teammates thought we had it made. When we went to compete, I knew all the answers too -- but I only buzzed in first on two of them. So I'm not so sure about the reaction time thing either, though I could just be an outlier.

Fourteen points seems like a lot for that stretch of time, but I'd believe that before I'd buy the Flynn effect. I'm constantly amazed by the things our ancestors invented and built without the aid of computers and modern power tools. There's no way they were dumber than us, but I could believe smarter.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you're not the only one who's happy to admit to being an average driver at best. Your description of driving experiences sounds virtually word for word like my own. And I'm just about your height; maybe it's a slow big-guy thing . . . !

I also find this reaction time/IQ link a bit weird. I don't know exactly what my IQ is, but based on my SAT and GRE scores, it should be well above average. But my athletic success involving reaction time was mixed at best. I was a moderately successful high school baseball pitcher, and I could shoot the lights out in basketball (still can, actually), so my hand-eye coordination is pretty good, but I'm utterly sloth-like in terms of lateral quickness and straight-ahead footspeed. And my reaction times (I was terrible hitter in baseball) don't seem even up to average, much less above.

Anonymous said...

"And the reason for the Victorians unprecedented success is simple – they were ‘substantially cleverer’ than us."

Perhaps not cleverer than we, but they do seem to have had better grammar...

"clever": An interesting marker of difference between America and the UK. Very few Americans use "clever" in the British fashion. To Americans, it carries a slight tinge of the meretricious.

Anonymous said...

This makes sense. It's been about 50 years since the Great Society programs started. Paying stupid people to breed is not a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I think there's something in it but it needs the mental part of the process and the physical part teasing out e.g. the quiz example, i think a contestant slightly slower mentally and slightly faster physically than another could equal each other pressing the buzzer.

Anonymous said...

"The trouble with the paper is comparing science museum visitors (who should have average IQ of ~110 from the occupation statistics) with the general population (who should have average IQ of ~100). What do you know, there's about a ten point IQ difference between them!"

Good point. But I read the paper and it seems to say that all the data used for the statistical trend anslysis were from representative samples.

The rather scattered graph of reaction time versus year in the paper can be interpreted as increasing up to 1970 or so and then flat or possibly declining to the present.

That would be consistent with a dysgenic effect from the Victorian to the present coupled with a lead effect peaking in the 70s and declining to the present. After the lead effect disappears we're left with the dysgenic effect, unfortunately.
Robert Hume

Anonymous said...

I don't know about reflex times being a proxy for IQ but dummies don't rule 1/4 of the Earth's surface, including the tumultuous Indian subcontinent with what 60,000 or so bureaucrats.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be too surprised to find a correlation b.t. reaction times and intelligence, since many measures of mental ability cluster together. Because of oddly uneven performance in school, I have been given a IQ tests more than a few times, and the raw score was always just a little above average. The testers all said my IQ would be in the 140s, but my ability to visually detect patterns with speed and precision (in drawings, in printed words and numbers) brought the score way down. Verbal reasoning, math, and other things were high. The surprising part was that the testers said this kind of lopsidedness was extremely unusual, to the point of being unheard of. They had never come across anyone in life or in the literature with a deficit in one area that was so significant compared to their performance in all other areas. For me, remembering the testers' stunned reactions sort of gives the lie to the idea that general intelligence is meaningless, and that it is only useful to talk about "multiple intelligences." Someone whose only context for thinking about IQ is the conventional wisdom might conclude that my results are totally normal. But professionals who have seen hundreds IQ score results know that most (all?) of the "intelligences" cluster together, and when this isn't the case, you've got a freak of nature on your hands.

An unrelated question: Jews and East Asians are smart on average. But aren't they notoriously bad at sports, and isn't that a rough measure of reaction time? I wonder if reaction time and IQ are highly correlated within ethnic groups, but not between them.

polymathblogger said...

The studies found that higher IQ groups started movement earlier but the lower IQ groups moved faster so there wasn't much difference in when the button was hit. It was the initiation of action that was correlated with IQ not the completion of the action; faster brains is different from faster muscles.

As for driving, there is no paradox because a few very bad drivers skew the distribution of accidents and tickets. I am a better than average driver (mean) but worse than average driver (median).

Dave Pinsen said...

"OK, it's settled; Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the smartest man on the planet."

He was smart enough to duck Pacquiao during Pac's prime. And he has a lot of ring smarts and skill. Arguably one of the most successful careers of any boxer: undefeated, has largely avoided serious punishment, doesn't take stupid risks, has great defense. He's sort of the opposite of the late Arturo Gatti, who he demolished in the ring.

But I would bet either of the Klitschko brothers would beat him on an IQ test.

Eric said...

Reaction time is correlated ~.4 with IQ. Weak, but it's still evidence.

Is that still true irrespective of age?

David said...

It's important not to confuse mental reaction time and physical reaction time. Pushing a button or uttering a snappy comeback is less physical than running down a b-ball court.

If you watch old black-and-white movies (not undercranked or speeded-up), you often see actors with incredible reaction times and phenomenal memories for lines, business, and blocking; they're so confident it's like they're people from another planet. (And they didn't have much rehearsal time.) Actors started to get slower in the 1950s. Now the only fast things in movies are the cutting, the CGI, and the soundtrack.

Trying to get most modern actors up to the old pitch is difficult today. Not only do they want to feel every line BEFORE they say it (and it takes them forever to feel it), but also they can't keep the lines, business, character goal, storyline in their minds solidly. They aren't confident. They don't have it in them - mentally? - to nail a scene in the old grand manner.

Experiment: think of any current actors who could play the Cary Grant-Rosilyn Russel scenes in "His Gal Friday" at the same pace and make the scenes register. Any competent actor in the 1940s could do it more creditably.

What caused the apparent mental softening in recent decades? TV, probably. And the long-term effects of mass production. About the latter, Adam Smith wrote,

"The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become."

Steve Sailer said...

I'd be more persuaded by, say, critic Manny Farber's assertion that Buster Keaton's movies show that audiences used to have a better 3-d mechanical intelligence on average.

Anonymous said...

If you watch old black-and-white movies (not undercranked or speeded-up), you often see actors with incredible reaction times and phenomenal memories for lines, business, and blocking; they're so confident it's like they're people from another planet. (And they didn't have much rehearsal time.) Actors started to get slower in the 1950s. Now the only fast things in movies are the cutting, the CGI, and the soundtrack.

Trying to get most modern actors up to the old pitch is difficult today. Not only do they want to feel every line BEFORE they say it (and it takes them forever to feel it), but also they can't keep the lines, business, character goal, storyline in their minds solidly. They aren't confident. They don't have it in them - mentally? - to nail a scene in the old grand manner.


Um, isn't that because "method acting" is dominant in modern acting? Classical acting was more about memorizing certain speech patterns, facial expressions, body movements, etc. that could be conjured up on command. Also memorizing and reciting poetry and literature was common in school back in the day.

Dave Pinsen said...

David,

Isn't possible that actors did less acting back in the 1940s? That is, they were more often cast in roles similar to their off-screen personas?

Maybe the modern equivalent of that is Arnold Schwarzenegger, starting - at the point (in the late '80s?) where writers stopped adding explanations for his accent in the script.

Bottledwater said...

Imagine, for instance, that the IQ test adopted by the leading institutions of the day is Sudoku and Sudoku-like puzzles. Were this decision made in, say, 1920, it'd probably be pretty culturally neutral for a few years, but it'd pretty quickly work its way into the culture within a generation or so. Kids toys would start emphasizing similar mental tasks. You'll note, by a quick trip to a baby reseller show or SWPL kid's toy store that things like the Raven certainly have.

I don't agree. I think the raven is still a novel task for the vast majority of test takers and a culture fair measure of IQ. Even if some toys resemble the raven, the level of similarity has to be extremely high before a transfer effect is observed, and even then, it's temporary.

Richard Lynn brilliantly hypothesized that better nutrition has increased brain size and complexity causing a 1+ SD IQ gain over the 20th century.

However at the same time genetic IQ might be falling though this study probably overestimates the degree. Reaction time is so important to survival that it's probably immune to malnutrition and thus shows no Flynn effect, only a slight decline reflecting dysgenics.

Bottledwater said...

One interesting thing about reaction time studies is how well East Asians do. Because reaction is correlated with IQ (especially complex reaction time) it's not surprising that East Asians are faster than whites who are faster than blacks, but what's shocking is that East Asians absolutely SLAUGHTER whites on reaction time. It's an absolute MASSACRE. Whites score much closer to blacks than to East Asians.

When you look at physical speed, the 100 fastest runners in the world are probably all black. Not a single white makes the list some years.

But I bet a list of the world's 100 fastest brains would be 100% East Asian. No white would make that list either.

Just listening to East Asians speak their native tongue, they talk so fast that they seem like a race of super-humans, like something out of science fiction. Genetically superior.

Anonymous said...

"It would be interesting to see a study that measured reaction times and IQs of athletes who require fast reflexes (boxers, hockey & soccer goalies, etc.)."

Interesting comparison ice hockey goalies vs. soccer goalies. In hockey it is mostly fast reflexes, as the goalie is mostly stationary and the goal is a small target. In soccer, the goal is a much larger target and the goalie has to move around a lot and change his position. So it's not just a matter of fast reflexes; there is also a strong need to anticipate what is happening, understand the spatial relationships, and show up at the right spot at the right moment to foil the opposition. Soccer goalies usually only have to rely on their fast reflexes when caught off guard. I'd assume that the ice hockey goalies have the faster reflexes and the soccer goalies have better understanding of temporal/spatial relationships.

a Newsreader said...

This is kinda interesting, but the correlation between reaction time and IQ is so weak that this has no chance of settling anything, especially given how mainstream commentary denies the existence of IQ.

Has the decrease of evolutionary pressure on humans during the 20th century left us a weaker, slower, and stupider species? Probably. lol

And if this is the case, what were the evolutionary conditions that led to human accomplishment before the 20th century? Were they specific to classical/medieval societies (or pre-classical/pre-high-middle-ages)? Are we going to get stupider until a new dark age culls our dimwits? Fun stuff to ponder.

Bottledwater said...

One mystery is why the two greatest boxers of their generation (Tyson and Al) both scored borderline retarded on at least one IQ test. I realize physical reaction time is not mental reaction time, but boxing requires both, plus the ability to outsmart your opponent.

My theory is that heavy weight boxing recruits from the most violent, muscular segment of the black population, and these have an average IQ of 70. Thus Ali only needed an IQ of 78 to outwit and out-react the competition.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting topic. Mentally and sport-wise, I'm opposite.

Intellectually I like to take my time and double check things. I usually do my best work when I can take my time and consider all the angle. Although often I will have a quick intuition that gets the heart of a difficult problem, I'm not a world beating "quick on the buzzer" type, like the sort of people who work in radio or on TV, quick on their feet. Definitely above average, but not those sort of 1/1000 or 1/10000 types who are at home as barristers, TV interviewers, TV hosts. Think Dr Phil for example.

But sport wise, my reaction times are very good. I love table tennis, and am very good at it. On the other hand, I am only above average at a game like pool that requires one to perfectly judge where to hit the ball.

I'd love to know what Sailer's typing speed is. Or reading speed. I'd love to know how he can write so much during what I assume is a "manic phase".

Anonymous said...

I've always thought north africans from maghreb & french have these short tempers, explosive muscles for MMA sports/soccee & quick verbal wit -- often apart from coldblooded intelligent (german) analytical brainpower.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Steve

I'm pleased you covered this, but I am dismayed that you raised the red herring about sports prowess.

(However, if you try to think of sports which really do require reaction times to be short, and do not depend so much on fast twitch muscle strength - such as fencing, and see which people and nations excel at these sports, you can see that the picture is consistent with IQ and RT being correlated.)

The correlation between reaction times and 'g' is not complex or difficult to understand - it is just a matter of observable fact. It is a bit late in the day to be challenging a century and a half of un-contradicted data!

Speed of reactions correlates with IQ group differences in sex, social class and race.

The advantage of RT over IQ tests is that they provide an objective measure, suitable to look at historical trends.

I don't see what is difficult about this!

Anonymous said...

We need the Heretical Foundation.

http://takimag.com/article/the_new_heretics_taki/print#axzz2UqfDiOvn

Steve Sailer said...

I'd love to know what Sailer's typing speed is.

Junior high school summer school class in reading I eventually got up to 31 words per minute -- below average for the class. After college, tested at 45 wpm. Probably faster now, but not terribly fast.

Or reading speed.

Above average, but not superfast. I had a girlfriend in college who was about 1.6 times as fast a reader as I was. I have good reading comprehension, though.

I'd love to know how he can write so much during what I assume is a "manic phase."

Hypomanic?

Productive periods of blogging generally coincide with having enough sleep and not a lot of chores, worries, or other distractions at the moment. The world keeps moving in directions I've anticipated so it's not hard to run with current events.

Anonymous said...

wiki says the SD of reaction times is more correlated with IQ than the reaction times. Ability to focus better predicts IQ.
A recent study says that high IQ folks are better able to tune out background motion.

Anonymous said...

How about me? I'm a reasonably intelligent person. Do I have good reaction times? In general, I'd say no

One of Jensen's ideas was to try to separate reaction time from movement time, based on the assumption that the latter mostly measures motor skills rather than "mental speed." He designed an apparatus called the Jensen box that measures reaction and movement time. At the beginning, you hold down the start button. When one of the other buttons lights up, you first lift you finger from the start button. The apparatus records your reaction time, which is the time it takes to lift your finger from the start button. Then you move your finger to press the button that lit up, which is the movement time, also recorded by the box.

In practice, both the reaction time and movement time have (low) correlations with IQ within races. However, Jensen also discovered that while whites have faster reaction times than blacks blacks have faster movement times, on the average. So reaction times may have both cognitive and motor elements.

In general, I don't think reaction time tests and the like have proved to be the royal road to the neuronal basis of intelligence that Jensen and others thought they were. They are just a culturally neutral but highly unreliable way to measure IQ. Simple reaction time has a very low correlation with IQ (~0.20), but I guess it's the only thing we can use to study questions like whether the Victorians were smarter than us. (More complex reaction time tests, invented only in recent decades, have higher correlations with IQ.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, probably hypomanic, if that is the correct terminology. Not quite mania, but when there is a big surge of activity, for example during the Super Bomb Brothers episode, IIRC.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree. I think the raven is still a novel task for the vast majority of test takers and a culture fair measure of IQ.

The Raven is highly culturally loaded. We know this because the Flynn effect has had a huge effect on it. Within the same culture, it is nevertheless a highly heritable indicator of intelligence.

Dave Pinsen said...

"Interesting comparison ice hockey goalies vs. soccer goalies. In hockey it is mostly fast reflexes, as the goalie is mostly stationary and the goal is a small target. In soccer, the goal is a much larger target and the goalie has to move around a lot and change his position. So it's not just a matter of fast reflexes; there is also a strong need to anticipate what is happening, understand the spatial relationships, and show up at the right spot at the right moment to foil the opposition. Soccer goalies usually only have to rely on their fast reflexes when caught off guard. I'd assume that the ice hockey goalies have the faster reflexes and the soccer goalies have better understanding of temporal/spatial relationships."

Good points. Anticipation and spatial relationships are probably more important than reflexes for soccer goalies. Partly because at point-blank range (e.g., penalty kicks), reflexes aren't enough, and partly because soccer goalies have to range a lot further forward out of their goals sometimes when they're forced to challenge strikers and cut down their angles of attack. And when they do that, they've got to be mindful of the ball getting behind them if it's deflected.

"One mystery is why the two greatest boxers of their generation (Tyson and Al) both scored borderline retarded on at least one IQ test."

Maybe they were mailing it in? I would be both have higher than average IQs.

J Steinberg said...

@ Steve,

Pesta & Poznanski have done some interesting research using chronometric measures and reaction times, including:


Pesta, B., & Poznanski, J. (2009). The inspection time and over-claiming tasks as predictors of MBA student performance. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 236-240


Pesta, B., & Poznanski, P. (2008). Black-White differences on IQ and grades: The mediating role of elementary cognitive tasks. Intelligence, 36, 323-329.

Mike J said...

All else being equal, sure, reaction time and IQ are correlated. But reaction time is probably more highly correlated with e.g., lack of toxoplasma infection.

Anonymous said...

"The Raven is highly culturally loaded. We know this because the Flynn effect has had a huge effect on it"

Flynn effect might be due to decline in lead pollution and other environmental causes. Lead pollution would also affect reaction time. Interaction with dysgenic effects makes things complicated.
Robert Hume

dearieme said...

"I often start laughing a split second before the rest of the audience": me too, but what made people look at me was that I would then laugh again afterwards as I savoured the joke all over again and anticipated the follow up.

Anonymous said...

"OK, it's settled; Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the smartest man on the planet."

LOL, I was thinking the same thing, Truth.

ADD said...

Ability to focus better predicts IQ.

Is that right?

Yet you can have a high IQ and attention deficit disorder:
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mysteries-add/201108/the-mysteries-add-and-high-iq
We recently published a study of 117 high IQ children and adolescents with ADD...Some have been mystified as to how very bright students could suffer from ADD. They assume that being smart protects a person from the difficulties associated with ADD. This study shows that it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

What about size? Average male Average heights have increased by about 5 inches since 1850's, increasing average distance to hands by about 7-8%. Average brain size has also increased at same time(with height) making for slower nerve impulse propagation. Appears to be typically about a 10% increase in brain size with a 5 inch gain in height:
http://www.scielo.cl/pdf/ijmorphol/v25n1/art08.pdf
Which likely also explains some of Flynn effect.

Steve Sailer said...

Right, so Jensen had to make a number of conceptual distinctions to decompose reaction times into mental and physical parts. My question then would be whether Galton, working a century before had come upon this distinction and recorded his data in such a way that it could be reanalyzed today to match up with Jensen's categories. I haven't read Woodley's paper and he may well explain all this in it.

cmcoct said...

Steve,

The more likely reason that you hit to right in your baseball days was that pitchers tended to pitch you "away" more ofter - you were taller than the average hitter, and kid pitchers take longer to learn to throw inside. Psychologically, pitchers have a tougher time working inside to a bigger kid.

An outside pitch to a righty is difficult to pull to left, and to generate power and bat-speed, you should take it to right field. If a lefty pitcher threw you a curve, it probably broke toward you, and would have been easier to pull to right - but curve-throwing lefties are rarer among kid pitchers.

Baseball is a good proxy for IQ - lots of anticipation required, and almost all of the good players I know are above average in general intelligence.

Anonymous said...

"And the reason for the Victorians unprecedented success is simple – they were ‘substantially cleverer’ than us."

There's nothing wrong with the grammar here, though there is a typo.

pat said...

I've been waiting for you to post on this topic. I will probably post another comment too, but right now I'd just like to suggest a conforming observation.

Recently I read a website which estimated the IQs of the Founding Fathers. I don't place much credence in any one such estimate but here there was a pattern. Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Franklin, and Burr all were estimated at around an IQ of 160. That would be four SDs above today's mean.

I read biographies in the last few years of Hamilton, Jefferson, Burr and Franklin and I have to agree that this group were extraordinarily bright. Hamilton averaged 100 letters a day while on Washington's war staff. Jefferson - whom JFK thought was a genius - was intimidated by Hamilton's brains. And of course everyone in America and Europe had no doubt that Franklin was a genius.

More recently our top political leaders seem to cluster around 2 SDs above the mean. Obama, Bush, Clinton, Gore and Kerry all have roughly the same IQ and all are far below the standard set by those who signed the Constitution.

At one time we had four sigma leaders. Today we have two sigma leaders. And it matters.

Franklin was the scientist in the room then. Today it would be Al Gore. But - read his first book - Gore is no scientist. He has scientific pretensions but little analytical skill and he is almost innumerate. And Gore, of course, had probably the best test scores among all recent presidential candidates.

All the Founding Fathers knew history. That's good because they took up the task of creating the world anew. All of them would have known the governance lessons of the Roman Republic. Obama however never shows any historical appreciation of almost anything including the American Civil War, WWII, or the Fall of Communism. Deep down he's quite shallow. Every news channel these days has one or more lawyers as anchors who make legal observations. Obama - a former law professor - wisely keeps his mouth shut.

There are now, and have recently been, a number of very bright men in public life but not in the top slots. Two hundred years ago the top men seemed to have been much smarter.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

"1/ Great athletes vs great scientists. I have no doubt who has better reaction times.

Wonder how well Einstein played ping-pong? Granted E Asians do well there but still."

Reaction time and muscular coordination are two different things. If you performed an evoked potential test on Einstein he would probably have scored faster than Kobe Bryant.

"2/ Yes the Victorians invented great things. But what percentage of Victorians were actual inventors?"

Victorians invented the industrial revolution, discovered electromagnetism, and formulated the mathematics of General Relativity. That pretty much dwarfs computers and semi conductors which are more of an ant colony enterprise than a demonstration of individual brilliance.

Anonymous said...

I'm skeptical that reflex is a predictor of IQ, and even more so that the genetic component of IQ could change that much that fast. Yes, I think that civilization is dysgenic, and our brains have lost 10% of their mass compared to the earliest Homo Sapiens, but it took 10,000 years for that to happen.

newyorker said...

Interesting... When galton made his measurements it was not long after western societies escaped the malthusian trap thru the industrial revolution and public health practices had recently been introduced.

If we are to believe that iq is correlated positively with health, and the unhealthy and dumb tended to live shorter lives, many dying before reproducing, it's plausible that we in the 21st century have undergone a deterioration in iq. This is the downside of a compassionate welfare state.

pat said...

I guess you forgot the part where Jensen said that the correlation with one simple stimulus where the nature and location of the stimulus were known ahead of time, was negative. Simple reaction times are determined by psychomotor factors not 'g'. Fast simple reflexes more likely means you're dumb not smart.

The reaction times that are so closely associated with 'g' are those which have significant cerebral processing. Jensen describes how to set up such tests. I wonder if Galton's tests qualify? I'll have to read the original article.

Mohammad Ali, as I remember was tested on Jensen's reaction time box, and scored poorly. Ali was famous for his hand speed. And indeed it was exceptional as any one who saw his fight with George Chuvalo can attest.

Driving ability has very little to do with reaction times at least off the race track. I taught driving for awhile. It's mostly learning where to look and what to see. Beginning drivers often can't see the truck bearing down on them.

BTW enough with the false modesty. You are at least a three sigma guy, more likely four. Why else would I read you?

Albertosaurus

Douglas Knight said...

Forget whether modern tests are comparable to Galton. Are modern tests comparable to each other? NO.

Here is the scatterplot of the tests in the meta-analysis. What is increasing is the range of averages across papers. In 1900, there were 2 tests, both about 200ms. Today there are lots of papers, some with reaction times of 200ms, some with times of 300ms, some in between. And the situation today is hardly different from the situation in 1945, when there were two tests with 200ms and one with 300ms.

So I conclude that the tests in the modern day are not comparable, so it's no surprise that they aren't comparable to the Victorians. Why aren't they comparable? I assume varying researcher methodology. If you think these numbers are comparable across researchers, which you must to do the meta-analysis, then you can compare the modern tests and conclude differences between the populations studied. You must conclude that Australians and Finns are much faster than Americans and Scots. Is that more or less surprising than the claimed result of the paper?

But if you do believe it, you can go test them with uniform methodology. If it turns out that Australians and Finns really are faster than Americans and Scots, you can come back to this paper. If it turns out that they aren't, this paper is nonsense.

mel belli said...

Steve, do you remember Mal Sharpe, the street interviewer? Why don't you go up to the Golden Gate Bridge and ask passersby whether they think the people of 1937 were smarter or dumber than today's folks? (Topically, the Bay Bridge would be a better example, but you can't walk on that)

smead jolley said...

Cmcoct is a moron. Kid pitchers have no idea where the ball is going. And one of the commonest things in sports is the blockhead who can play baseball. Hitting is mostly about strong forearms. Some hitters are smart, some dumb, but none have slender forearms.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. So, your buzzer malfunctioned on Jeopardy. Gordo didn't blow the hatch that sank the capsule either. It's your story, tell it like you want.
I really enjoy your blog.
SRG

Anonymous said...

Someone should do the math to see how strong the dysgenic factor has to be to lose 15 points over 100 years. I bet implausibly high.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen much description of how they measured reaction times. But wouldn't RTs have gone down if only due to the increase in size between contempraries and Victorians, and the resulting difference in distance that nerve impulses must travel? Or would that be rounding error in these measurements?

Anonymous said...

Well, I remember Paul Johnson's book the Birth of the Modern and all the guys in England that invetnion things with little or no formal education. They had a naturally ability for mechincal things. Think of Babbit before technology allowed a computer.

Bottledwater said...

The Raven is highly culturally loaded. We know this because the Flynn effect has had a huge effect on it..

By that brilliant logic tape measures must be culturally biased because there's been an increase in height over the 20th century.

guns, germs, and spiel said...

Wasn't this one of Jared Diamond's faves with the Papuans--how they were supposedly "more alert" (or just more prepared for danger) than the typical Western doofus strolling across the street right into the path of a bus? I think road safety engineers mention this with marking bends and choosing vector speed limits near interchanges. Anyway, the notion that this phenomenon of being acclimated to smoothly-functioning modernity somehow relates to the perennial geek worry ritual around here ("We're losing our precious reserves of g! Oh noes!!1!") is humorous as always...

Anonymous said...

By that brilliant logic tape measures must be culturally biased because there's been an increase in height over the 20th century.

Nope. IQ scores aren't comparable over time because IQ tests aren't unbiased over time, unlike tape measures. Otherwise you would have to believe that 100 years ago the average person was borderline mentally retarded.

Anonymous said...

Rock-head baseball players who are described as "hitting savants", like Manny Ramirez and Yogi Berra, are widely known as below average in intelligence but have an astounding ability to react to a pitch and drive it for a hit.

tracey said...

"Deep down he's quite shallow. Every news channel these days has one or more lawyers as anchors who make legal observations. Obama - a former law professor - wisely keeps his mouth shut.
"

Deep down? There is no "deep" there. You can see through him, his intellect is so thin. I've never understood how anybody fell for the media con-job on this man.

tracey said...

"Victorians invented the industrial revolution, discovered electromagnetism, and formulated the mathematics of General Relativity. That pretty much dwarfs computers and semi conductors which are more of an ant colony enterprise than a demonstration of individual brilliance."

The industrial revolution began with the steam engine, late 1700s. The Victorians inherited the industrial revolution.

Bottledwater said...

Nope. IQ scores aren't comparable over time because IQ tests aren't unbiased over time, unlike tape measures. Otherwise you would have to believe that 100 years ago the average person was borderline mentally retarded.

Culture reduced tests like the raven are comparable over time, and yes, the average person 100 years ago was borderline retarded, it just wasn't an issue because most jobs back then were very low skilled.

The average bushmen today has an IQ of 54, the average west African is 67, so it's totally believable that whites 100 years ago were about 80 and average U.S. Blacks 100 years ago were 65 (comparable to Africans today)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps one reason the Victorians did so much in the area of invention was they weren't trying to deal as a society with extremely difficult problems like eradication of poverty, education to uniform achievement, complete equality, world peace, etc..

They could concentrate on stuff that could actually be achieved, like trans-atlantic telegraph cable. Simple stuff that changed the world big time.

Who knew that landing a man on the moon would turn out to be the easy thing (perhaps because it was actually do-able)?

Anonymous said...

None of the morons here do not recognize the destruction of great war, which killed off the creme of europe and enabled misfits to have a better chance to procreate.

Samson J. said...

I often start laughing a split second before the rest of the audience

***

FWIW, I have noticed that when watching sporting events in public I start cheering a split second before others on a good or winning play. It's feels a little weird, as if the others are watching a time delayed broadcast.

***

One interesting thing about reaction time studies is how well East Asians do...

Just listening to East Asians speak their native tongue, they talk so fast that they seem like a race of super-humans, like something out of science fiction. Genetically superior.


Oddly, I find all of this kind of creepy. Obviously we all know that having a higher IQ carries certain advantages in life, but the way these comments are phrased, it sounds like we're talking about outright mutants with superpowers.

nb said...

Take a look at high school math and language curricula in late Victorian and Edwardian times. They would leave many a modern college grad floored ... the Idiocracy cometh!

Chongbeng said...

the link to the free research paper is http://hyperborearising.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/were-the-victorians-smarter-than-us.pdf