The average intelligence level of a Victorian-era person was higher than a modern-era person, a European research team posits in a report published last week in the journal Intelligence.
The research flies in the face of current assumptions of the Flynn Effect, which states that basic intelligence levels — measured through IQ tests — have risen since the 1930s.
IQ tests have been criticized, however, for reflecting bias toward certain cultures and education levels, while reaction times to stimuli might reflect “true intelligence” — the shorter the reaction time, the smarter the person.
European researchers Michael Woodley, Jan te Nijenhuis and Raegan Murphy compared reaction times to stimuli between people in the Victorian-era and modern-era people between 1884 to 2004.
The Victorian-era is a period of British history between the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837 until her death in 1901.
In their study, the researchers found that reaction times have slowly increased over time.
“For men, the increase was found to be 183ms to 253ms; for women the increase was from 188ms to 261ms,” Phys.org reported.
“The researchers claim this proves that people have grown ‘less clever’ over time,” wrote the publication, noting that a possible explanation for the decline is that smart people reproduce less than less intelligent people.