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Are Americans getting dumber?

Is the American populace getting dumber? So say critics who see this as part of America's current decline. Read More

I'd like to see some links

I'd like to see some links for those articles.

I'd also like to point out that the information you claimed asked about is irrelevant in day-to-day life. Any Gen Y kid can easily google it on their smart phone any time they need access to that information. Why would they waste brain cells on something like that?

Another thing I'd like to point out, is that school isn't exactly human-friendly. It's a pretty harrowing experience for a child to be told "Don't play. Don't talk. Don't have fun. No fun allowed. Now pay attention to boring stuff." when there's an infinite world of possibilities blocked off only by an invisible force field called the window.

Most Gen Y kids get so many mixed messages about Gov't that they'll all generally reach the same conclusion; it can't be understood, don't try. That's the same conclusion that even my economics professor has come to! If a Master's in Economics isn't good enough to figure out Government, why would someone who doesn't even have ambitions that high care?

Your "data" is largely irrelevant or based off of arbitrary information with context completely unobserved. It's not a far throw to get to "this plate is warm and that one is cold because they are made of different materials" when actually one is hot because it's sitting on a fire. You ignore the circumstance and the changes and claim that the new generation is stupid? They're not stupid. They're responding to incentives and beliefs just like you did; they just don't respond to the same incentives or share the same beliefs.

The only difference is the context, which you've entirely failed to consider in this article.

So consider this an expression of outrage from a Generation Y college undergraduate.

While some things may be

While some things may be unnecessary or irrelevant in day to day life, most are not. For example the general science and math scores and the number of books read for pleasure. It would be naive to say that someone could supplement a novel, fiction or non-fiction, with some other kind of stimuli.

And while it is perfectly fine if someone doesn't care about the government or attempt to understand it, that person should also not vote, not complain about anything the government is doing, and not attempt to participate in a dialogue with anyone else about the topic they can't understand.

I agree that often schools can be underwhelming places for students, however, that doesn't explain the fact that schools have always been underwhelming. School in the 1960's wasn't any more fun than it is today, government wasn't any less confusing, and humans weren't any more capable of learning from a biological perspective. Most people just stop trying nowadays.

Ill have to agree somewhat

Ill have to agree somewhat with gen y here. See even in japan where they school their students to death, the school still makes time for their students to have fun.

"I'd also like to point out

"I'd also like to point out that the information you claimed asked about is irrelevant in day-to-day life. Any Gen Y kid can easily google it on their smart phone any time they need access to that information. Why would they waste brain cells on something like that?"

You can also google how to build a fence, fire a gun, and survive in the wilderness. You can google for mathematical theorems, or laws of physics.

I don't think you know very much about knowledge. Polanyi (you can probably google him, with your vast skill set) introduced a distinction years ago between propositional knowledge and skill/craft knowledge. "Knowing how" is different than "knowing that".

Let's use math as an example. You may be able to google a theorem, but unless you know how to prove it, you lack the skills to make new discoveries in mathematics. And the process of learning how to prove theorems will actually change the way you look at mathematics itself. It is arguable that you can't even comprehend the most basic insights of proof or model theory without first struggling through basic proofs. In short, the years of practice are the price of admission for the higher level skills that allow you to do creative and penetrating work.

However, learning an instrument, becoming good at math, mastering carpentry (etc) takes discipline and effort, which is foreign to most of you Gen Y types. It is much easier to merely hang out on facebook, googling things on occasion.

Correction

"Data" is plural. Notice you are not a graduate?

Stop defending your moronic Gameboy culture and read a freakin' book.

While I think the society

While I think the society today is more crude & dumber, the author of this article uses his story here to slip in his left wing ideas like evolution and global warming. Both of these issues remain a theory (check the actual lab and peer review facts), and neither has been proven. The percentage of scientist who have an opinion does not matter. Science is always in flux and theroies abound on every subject. The authors own statement on these two issues illuminate his own brain not researching facts and flowing along the theory river of ideas if stated enough become true. Stupid is as stupid does!

YES, GET BEN STEINS BOOK

YES, GET BEN STEINS BOOK "EXPELLED" TO SEE THE SUBJECT OF EVOLUTION INVESTIGATED TO THE MAX!FUNNY AND INFORMATIVE DOCUMENTARY.

I also feel that American society is getting dumber - However:

Unfortunately your remarks demonstrate how ill-informed the American public has become, certainly on science. Evolution is a concept that has become a bedrock in biology in the course of 100 years because of its predictive power. Global warming as a phenomenon appears to be in the process of being experimentally confirmed as well, even as some scientists say it doesn't exist. Strictly speaking, as a scientist I would agree with you that the size of scientific concensus is not relevant. However, have you read the scientific papers or tried to confirm either theory for yourself?

I promise you, weak ideas are trounced by the scientific community, Do you remember cold fusion? Fellow scientists could not repeat the work but could demonstrate its errors. The careers of the chemists who presented it were demolished.

Scientists are a contentious bunch, and proud of it. History is littered with discarded scientific ideas that seemed to be reasonable and had some data to back them, at first.

Amazing dumbness!

It simply amazes me that anyone today still believes there is no global warming or that evolution is fiction. One has to be brain dead (brain washed) otherwise. End of story! If one feels the need to refute this, then I suggest Prozac or some other drug to help you out of your psychotic state. Your ignorance borders on insanity...

I also feel that American society is getting dumber - However:

Unfortunately your remarks demonstrate how ill-informed the American public has become, certainly on science. Evolution is a concept that has become a bedrock in biology in the course of 100 years because of its predictive power. Global warming as a phenomenon appears to be in the process of being experimentally confirmed as well, even as some scientists say it doesn't exist. Strictly speaking, as a scientist I would agree with you that the size of scientific concensus is not relevant. However, have you read the scientific papers or tried to confirm either theory for yourself?

I promise you, weak ideas are trounced by the scientific community, Do you remember cold fusion? Fellow scientists could not repeat the work but could demonstrate its errors. The careers of the chemists who presented it were demolished.

Scientists are a contentious bunch, and proud of it. History is littered with discarded scientific ideas that seemed to be reasonable and had some data to back them, at first.

Peer influence

I found your article interesting, and I agree that it seems the general intellect of Americans is decreasing.

However, I do wonder if you have any statistical backing for your claim that children are being targeted for their intellect, any more than in the past? I graduated high school in 2006, and was one of the "smart kids who ask a million questions." I got some gentle teasing from my friends, but never experienced any notable levels of bullying or taunting. I don't recall anyone else being taunted about their intellect (some of the popular kids were also in all the AP classes); if they were socially awkward, then yes, there was bullying, but that occurred regardless of academic ability.

Maybe I have rose-colored glasses because I went to a small high school in the Midwest . . . but I would argue it's not peers who are reinforcing ignorance.

Bright Dummies

We are told of the Flynn Effect: unadjusted IQ scores have risen 3 points per decade ever since the tests were first administered a century ago. (New scores are constantly renormalized from the raw results so that the nominal average always stays 100.) Yet Jay Leno has little trouble getting good comedy material by asking simple questions of people on the street. Nominal average SAT scores are very little different than they were 40 years ago, but, if Wiki is correct, this is only because the tests are so much easier that, if you took the SAT back then, you should add 70 points to your verbal and 30 points to your math in order to compare your results properly to current scores. Apparently, having more brains does not ensure using them.

Is anti-intellectualism on the rise? Is anti-scientific thinking on the rise? (For measuring the extent of anti-scientific thought, there is a hazard in picking political questions in which the potential for bias -- either way -- is obvious; tabulating beliefs in crystal power, tarot cards, ghosts, and the like probably would be better.) I don't know, but it is fair to say there seems to be no shortage of either.

Filler Facts Are Unnecessary

I take issue with some of the facts that you listed as proof that we are "dumber". For instance, it used to be the norm to teach creationism in school, so how does wanting to teach the subject now make Americans "dumber" than they were in the past? Also, there are a number of valid and scientific arguments that can be made against global warming (for instance, looking at trends over millions of years as opposed to the past few thousands shows that the earth has been significantly warmer at other periods) so the fact that some dispute its veracity doesn't make them "dumb."

In short, I think to equate being religious and/or skeptical with being dumb (or, "dumber")is quite a false equation. I think your definition of "dumber" lacks clarity (dumber in comparison to who and when?) and while some of your examples have merit, others seem nonsequitur, poorly researched, and even pointlessly mean.

Of course this article has

Of course this article has holes. It's a 5 minute blog post, not a PhD thesis. The purpose of the post is to stimulate discussion, so the examples don't have to be rock solid. They are merely interesting observations that might lead an intelligent reader to ask questions.

My own quibble is that scattered observations on modern culture are not sufficient to define a trajectory for intelligence levels over multiple decades. Is this a temporary trend? Are the metrics themselves questionable? (etc etc)

My thoughts exactly.

My thoughts exactly.

Just a thought

Would anyone have a problem, issue, moral pause, at the idea of a micro/nano chip being implanted in a person's brain so that they could bring up the internet at any time.

Don't chastise me on the how yet. I'm just wondering if people would have any problem with a permanent addition that would make us as smart (or as dumb) as all of the internet.

I already have a 4 inch phone that can do this, how long until they put the phone into my head?

Second Sight

I'd rather it were a pair of heads-up display glasses I could take off.

Just a personal suspicion

Just a personal suspicion here: if Americans seem to be getting dumber even while academic training has steadily become more complex, then what could be driving this behavioral trend? And I do stress that I believe it's purely behavioral, not intellectual.

My guess is that it has to do with technological development and urbanization. It's a simple fact that people who live in densely populated areas often self-isolate and end up with all sorts of anxiety and depression issues (and worse). Current technology enables this self-isolation and marketing trends are aimed at exploiting the isolationists' anxieties and other problems to maximum effect.

So you end up with people who never feel the need to assume responsibility for their actions or develop a sense of consideration for anyone outside themselves, because we live in a culture where there is no apparent need to take those developmental steps. The culture becomes one of impulsive, self-centered, childish adults.

Is there a "fix" for this? I don't think there is. Nothing short of nationwide poverty and suffering will wake the people up. I imagine our current economic problems might be foreshadowing more serious problems as time goes by. Those of you who are at least in your early 30's might remember pictures and video of what Soviet Russia looked like near the end of the Cold War. I suspect the US will have to go through a similar cultural trough before we reach the next peak.

More Questions

This article is an interesting read. As a member of Gen Y and a current PhD student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, this issue is something I regularly confront and consider. I see students sitting in the classes I teach and wonder if my perspective is skewed or if they really are "dumber" than what I perceive their parents must be. I wonder if I'm dumber than the PhD student who held my spot 30 years ago. I think it's very tempting and easy to say so.

However, I think simply chalking these young people up as "dumber" handles the issue in a very reductive manner. I see another force at work in the examples listed and in the actions and attitudes of the college freshman I teach. I wonder if perhaps the disconnect between what we expect from young people in terms of "smartness" isn't, at least partially, the result of the way we measure "smartness." It's no secret that the type of knowledge and literacies we utilize in today's societies differ from those of even 20 years ago. Yet, we expect students to present intelligence via assessment that emphasizes outdated literacies. The way we communicate and share knowledge is different, and yet we ask students to fill bubbles on scantron cards the way their parents and grandparents did.

Certainly, part of the issue must lie at the hands of an American society that views education and intelligence in a counterproductive and anti-rationalist way. Through an American ideology and education system we build within children the life-long hatred of and resistance to learning. We pit them against each other and take every opportunity to point out their deficiencies until the idea that learning is personally fulfilling is completely squashed. Of course, they don't want to go to college. They've been told (or they've perceived the message) that they're not worthy of education for 15 years.

But in reality our issue is a perfect storm of these factors: valued literacy shift, a broken US education system, and increased democratization in schools. That's what people forget. While the early 1960s may have seen great things from some people, it also excluded a number of black, latinos, women, and lower class Americans. Now, more minorities are attending college than ever before. Women outnumber men in post secondary education, and the lower classes are using education as a spring board for socio-economic mobility.

Perhaps what we need to look at is not whether we're getting "dumber," but what it will take to make sure the best of American educational intentions can work together. Right now, it seems like educational institutions are behind the times if they still favor the assessments of our parents and grandparents. In fact, it does very little to concern ourselves with test scores and rankings on the world stage, which are themselves linked to the sick, power crazy attitudes dominating the educational conversation. Instead of worrying about how we "stack up" in tests that may or may not accurately reflect the knowledge bases and literacies prized in an ever-changing society, why not think on how we might change an education system to actively kills the learning spirit in so money young people, that helps create generations of people hell-bent on ignorance.

"People Are Dumber"

Yes people are dumber not by choice, but what this society trys to cramm down us through the media. We are getting more and more distracted, less focused and very dissipated. Amen on that.

Is this a blog?

This article feels like a blog and not one from a Science-based magazine. There are tons of facts but none with reference links. Percentages are stated but just general enough to be construed however the author wants. I believe the author has a personal opinion about American Intelligence and created general evidence to support his opinion. What a weird article for Psychology Today to endorse. There should have been a disclaimer stating that they don't necessarily agree to the author's opinion.

Yes

Either I'm becoming a genius, or those around me carry a poorer level of conversation and critical thinking than was shared previously. Of course there are exceptions, but on the whole it seems knowledge and education are less valued, and are socially marginalized. If you maintain position in an exceptional peer group (Lucky!) you may feel differently. As a lifestyle I travel through communities of different sizes (US) and speak with people that aren't in my field, only to be disappointed in the downward trend in general cognitive abilities and interest in learning.
If you are surrounded by intelligentsia, congratulations to you. The population is dumber, but your circle isn't, so drop the offended act.

Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest...

Damned right Americans are getting dumber! I'm one of them and I'm surrounded by morons... When I was young, things were different--but today, forget it!

Want some observations?

Constructive criticism is no longer tolerated... NO matter how civil and logical it is, if it's "Unpleasant" but truthful it's not to be heard, it's to be Censored... I get this everywhere I go now, everyone has to be happy or Act Happy, Or else...

When I was young, religion was no big deal... Today there are more churches than ever before and people are ridiculously religious to the point of being loons... If that's not enough, they're into all manner of spiritual crap, karma, Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret"--you name the crap and they're into it... Science is coming under attack by these people, particularly Evolution and Global Warming, and don't get me started on conspiracy theories!

The Paranoia factor is Up... If people see someone "suspicious" that person gets reported--guilty until proven innocent. The other year a couple kids were crossing the street with an older man and I casually pointed my hand at them (as I was holding the steering wheel of my car and "shooed" them with it while bending my thumb back and (under my breath said "pow! pow!"). The man FREAKED OUT on me, called me abusive names and Threatened to call the Police because my "hand" gun gave the impression of being a Gun! My hand was bare, no glove, no rings, Nothing but my pale white flesh! He was ready to call me a terrorist!

Constant Addiction to Cell Phones and other portable gadgets... As in Unable To Function Without Them OCD-style! Having to be Constantly Connected to someone or something to the point of not being able to function on their own! What is it with this new generation of dickheads?? While sitting, while eating, while crapping, while driving, while piloting--tapping and yapping!

Nothing is fast enough or quick enough. Everything has to be On Demand...

It's no wonder Todays Americans are Idiots as in not being able to manage their money and blowing it it on instant gratification...
Where I live the tap water is not only pure and safe but everyone used to drink it--today, idiot Americans are calling it "Poison" and believe the government puts chemical in it! They blow their money on Bottled Water--not just one or two bottles mind you but Huge Cases in shopping carts day after day! Some have them Delivered to their doors!

Likewise, with oil prices higher than ever in history--Most Americans are dumb asses to fall for buying Huge gas-guzzling SUVs!

And it just goes on and on, dumber and dumber... When I point these things out to them they tell me to shut my face... I'm "Negative" and need to see a psychiatrist they say... Could be...

If u cn stll read ths, u ain't dmb.

Dumb, not the inability to speak, but as a term describing a low level of intelligence, is not clearly defined. I propose this question instead: is the innate cognitive ability of Americans decreasing? I doubt it. What is being described here is not an issue of intelligence, but rather of gumption. Americans are much lazier than we used to be. People don't read less, or memorize facts because they are dumber, but because focused attention requires greater energy than passive reception. It's easier to watch video than read. It's easier to look something up than memorize it. It's easier to eat fast food than to prepare a meal. And we are lazier, not because we are less intelligent, but because technological accomplishments, and vast wealth, allow us to be. The human brain retains its potential for advanced cognitive process. Ths sntnce prbly stll mks since bcz u hv an ncrdbl orgn clld a brain. I think we appear to be getting dumber for at least two major reasons. One, uninformed voices can gain wide audience since technology makes it incredibly easy to publish. For example, I'm allowed to write and publish this potentially reaching an audience even though I have no training, have done no research, and have no peer or editorial review. Two, ignorance and laziness are promoted to advance the political and economic gain of influential players. We are inundated with a stream of messages encouraging us to consume rather than produce. Media is funded by advertisers who want viewers, so content is created that maximizes traffic. And advertisers want viewers who will consume their products, so content that promotes a consumptive lifestyle gets financial backing. Essentially, we are encouraging a nation of addicts. If we really thought about it, if we exerted the effort to develop and utilize our cognitive and emotional intelligence, we would stop consuming products designed to last a short time so we will buy another one. I believe we have an even greater potential for intelligence than any other time in human history. But the potential isn't being realized because we're addicts, pleasure junkies, willfully ignorant consumers.

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Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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